A team of his own

KEN WIEBE -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

Jason Maas is back behind centre, doing exactly what he loves to do.

Sure, it took a trade from the reigning CFL champions, but Maas won't ever have to worry about playing second fiddle to close friend and former teammate Ricky Ray.

After helping the Edmonton Eskimos win a second title in four seasons, Maas was shipped to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats during the off-season (along with a sixth-round draft choice in the Canadian College Draft) for fellow QB Danny McManus, offensive lineman Tim Bakker and the Ticats first-round pick in 2006).

Despite the slow start out of the gate for Hamilton, Maas welcomed the change with open arms.

"It's what I wanted and the reason I came here, to be the starter," Maas said in an interview from Steeltown. "Anyone who plays, you want to be the guy and taking all the reps. Starting every game is definitely better than sitting on the sidelines. You want to start and you want to win and the winning needs to start coming."

Winning seemed to be a foregone conclusion for Maas up until this season, since the Eskimos won two Grey Cups during his four seasons in town.

Last season presented a tough mental challenge, since Maas went from becoming just the second Eskimos pivot to pass for more than 5,000 yards in a campaign to carrying the clipboard on most nights and serving as insurance.

"That's one of the reasons I left, I pretty much knew it would be difficult to unseat Ricky ever in Edmonton and he is a great friend of mine," said Maas. "I didn't want to be there more than that year if I wanted to continue to play and be a starter in this league. It was just a difficult situation if I'd stayed there. I'm thankful for the way it turned out for both of us."

With the Tiger-Cats limping out of the gate, Maas has been dealing with some additional adversity.

"It's been a little up and a little down," he admits. "The football aspect has been great, great being here and it's a lot of fun playing but the losing part is definitely not what any of us around here expected. It's definitely made the transition a little bit harder but at the same time it's something to overcome and something to strive for."

As much as he's been enjoying his new environment, Maas won't ever forget his time in Edmonton.

Nor will he forget the epic thriller that saw the Eskimos defeat the Montreal Alouettes 38-35 in overtime in the 2005 Grey Cup game before a packed house at B.C. Place in Vancouver.

"It was unbelievable and it's one of the most exciting games I've ever been a part of," said Maas. "I had somewhat of a hand in it, being the holder for the game-winner (from Sean Fleming) and one of the kicks to send us into overtime. I would have definitely been remembered if I had bobbled the snap.

"As a holder, it's not a big job but I did the only job that was asked of me in that game. It was kind of neat to be part of that and get a picture to put on the wall someday, of that moment in history.

"It was awesome. I can't really describe it. It's just an amazing feeling."

Maas was praised for his workmanlike approach and professionalism when asked to step back in favour of Ray last season.

And his contributions to the team in limited duty speak volumes about the type of quarterback he is.

Among the impressive displays, Maas came off the bench in both the West semifinal victory over the Calgary Stampeders and again in the West final to lead the Eskimos past the B.C. Lions, thanks to a 15-yard touchdown score to Trevor Gaylor.

Months later, Maas wasn't about to take any credit for helping the Eskimos to the promised land.

"As a backup, you always want to do what you can to help the team win," said Maas. "That's what I felt I did but there's a lot of reasons we won those playoff games. I'm just one of the pieces of that. We had some outstanding efforts from everybody on our team and I think the quarterback gets too much credit in those situations.

"It's exciting and it's something I'll remember for the rest of my life and something that I badly wanted to do while I was in Edmonton was win a playoff game and help us get to the Grey Cup. But it was such a team effort. That year was all about being a team and as a team we turned out to be the best. It was exciting to be part of that."

As far as Maas is concerned, there's nothing more exciting than being a quarterback.

"I've pretty much taken (the position) seriously my whole life," said Maas, who played his college ball at Oregon State. "I've always wanted to be a professional athlete and professional quarterback. Football is one of those sports where it takes a complete team effort to win ball games and to make plays happen. To be part of it and be one of the leaders, nothing takes its place.

"When you stop playing football and stop being a quarterback, there's going to be nothing that comes close to re-enacting that for you. There's nothing quite like a game-winning drive and having control while you're out there."

Maas, 30, hails from Beaver Dam, Wisc., and has loved his time in the CFL.

"The CFL game is great," said Maas. "It goes down to the last minute a lot of times and the last three minutes of a game are really exciting, where you can't say that in the NFL or college football. In the CFL, if you're down two or three touchdowns you can still come back. As a quarterback, throwing the ball up here is priority No. 1 generally so any quarterback coming up here would be excited about that."

Winnipeg Blue Bombers receiver Chris Brazzell spent some time with Maas in Edmonton during the 2002 season and got a first-hand look at his competitive nature.

"He's a hard-nosed quarterback," said Brazzell. "He had a lot of fire to him. You see him as a quarterback, but he could actually be your linebacker with his mentality. He's real determined, aggressive and he's the type of quarterback you want on your team."


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