Big day for Brandon boy

JIM BENDER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:42 AM ET

Shh! Don't tell the friends and family of Brandon's Chris Bauman that Thursday's match between the Tiger-Cats and the Blue Bombers in Winnipeg is 'just' a CFL exhibition game.

After all, it will be the No. 1 draft pick's first official appearance in a black-and-gold Ticats uniform.

"Oh yeah, I'll be there for the exhibition game," Bauman said over the telephone from Hamilton's training camp last week. "It's going to be exciting." There was some doubt as Bauman was recovering from a muscle pull at the time but he had lots of motivation to heal rather rapidly.

"There's a whole bunch of people from Brandon coming by bus," he said. "I think they bought about 50 tickets. My sister, Amber, is flying in from Vancouver and I've got an aunt and uncle coming in from Swan River. It really will be exciting." And those are just the ones he knows about.

Bauman has played at Canad Inns Stadium before. First, as a member of Team Manitoba, then as a Winnipeg Rifle.

"But the crowd will be the big thing," he predicted. "That will be a little overwhelming." Actually, Bauman will be the big thing. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound University of Regina Rams receiver became only the second Manitoban to ever be chosen first overall in the 2007 Canadian college entry draft and he is now trying to prove that he is CFL-worthy with the Tabbies.

"The rookie camp was a good thing because we had to get used to the speed and to get ahead of the vets on offence," said Bauman, 22. "Adjusting to the DBs' speed was the main thing. You beat them, then they're right on your back. I knew rookie camp would be tiring and I would be sore." Bauman, however, did get off to a slow start, thanks to that minor injury.

"Obviously, we thought a lot of him, that's why we drafted him No. 1," said Hamilton head coach Charlie Taaffe. "But, like most kids coming out of college, whether it's Canadian or U.S. college, it's a step up for them and there are more plays than what they're used to. He started a little slow and was feeling his way and getting more confident.

"He's a big-body receiver, a big target and we have high hopes for him. I see him as having a good future ... We selected Chris No. 1 because he is an outstanding player and at the top for his position so, our expectations are very high. Chris has all the skills and tremendous hands." Bauman, in fact, has been compared to B.C. receiver Jason Clermont, another former Ram. And the former Brandon Vincent Massey Vikings nine-man football player actually beat Clermont's best totals in Regina. Bauman led the CIS with 923 yards and 10 touchdowns on 42 receptions. Clermont's season-high was 807 yards and 11 majors on 41 catches.

"He's driven," Kevin Grindey, his former Vikings coach, told Home Turf before the draft. "He just wills himself to make plays ... He's the prototypical CFL receiver. He's fast, he's big, and yards after the catch are going to be big for him." Yet, the 'Cats apparently want him to bulk up more. The Tiger-Cats plan to use Bauman at wide receiver where he will be more comfortable. And he will be looked upon as a key component to turn Hamilton's fortunes around after a 4-14 campaign last season.

That's one of the things they drafted me for -- for my potential," said Bauman, "and I've been picking up things pretty quickly." Bauman had not seen much of Steeltown during the early days of camp as the team bunks at McMaster University. But he blamed the mugginess there for his minor injury.

"It was caused by a little hydration," he said. "I mean the first day of camp, it was 35 above and humid. You really feel it, especially after being in Saskatchewan where it's a dry heat." Meanwhile, the kid from Brandon has been rubbing shoulders with players he watched on TV just a short time ago.

"Just being around guys like (receiver) Mike Morreale, (linebacker Rob) Hitchcock, (receiver Brock) Ralph and (quarterback) Jason Maas, they have a lot to teach from their experience and that can only help me," Bauman said hopefully.


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