Thomas, Young find home in Steeltown

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:50 PM ET

HAMILTON - Their professional paths as similar as their athletic builds, Carlos Thomas and Marcell Young no longer find themselves at football’s cross roads.

If all goes according to plan, they may each find themselves that long-awaited and elusive professional home.

For now and for the immediate future, it’s all in their hands as both Young and Thomas will line up in Hamilton’s defensive secondary as starters when the Ticats usher in their season opener Friday night against visiting Winnipeg.

About the only difference between the two is about three inches and roughly five pounds, with a slight edge to Thomas in terms of CFL experience, which is stretching it.

Cut twice and traded once, Thomas has experienced much pain along the way.

“Knowing where I came from, I feel great,’’ Thomas began on Tuesday as the countdown to opening night in the Hammer continued. “The coach believes in me, the staff believes in me, it’s up to me to give it everything I got.”

When the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers provided a window of opportunity for Thomas, whose brother Levon lined up as a wide receiver in four-down football, it was quickly shut.

When Saskatchewan beckoned, Thomas experienced a same fate, a casualty of roster trimming that would lead him to Edmonton.

And then this past off-season Thomas was traded by the Eskimos to the Ticats in a package that also involved ex-Argos kicker Justin Medlock, who will make his regular-season debut against the Blue Bombers.

“When you get cut, not just once but twice, when you get traded, it creates a lot of doubt,’’ Thomas added. “I mean, you put in so much work and you know that you have the ability to play at the next level.

“And when you get cut, it hurts.”

Football is one of the most unyielding pro sports, where no contract is guaranteed and where politics and optics often over-ride personnel moves.

Thomas and Young are just two of the latest examples of players needing to be in the right situation where a fair and unbiased assessment is allowed to play out.

In Hamilton, the timing was right for both as the Ticats basically overhauled a defence that was described as too passive to one that is more aggressive, a system that requires players to think less, which allows for more reaction than reading.

The Ticats want to play more coverages where man-to-man principles are adhered and less zone.

Thomas will line up at halfback on the weak side of scrimmage and to his right will line up Young, who is very long and athletic and capable of getting up on receivers when necessary.

All throughout training camp and in both of Hamilton’s two pre-season games, Young and Thomas experienced the grind together and formed much-needed chemistry.

“Everything just came along natural,’’ Young said.

Young was twice cut by the NFL, first by New Orleans and later by St. Louis after spending time on each team’s practice roster.

In the big money NFL, a practice roster stipend comes in handy when one has to bide his time waiting for another shot.

For Young, he spent it in his native Mississippi, working out and hanging out with family and friends.

And then the call came from Hamilton in early March.

“I had no idea where Hamilton was,’’ Young acknowledged. “I knew of the CFL, but I had to Google Hamilton to see where it was.”

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Young is a true CFL rookie having had no previous exposure to three-down football and its many quirky rules.

“The size of the field is one thing that stood out,’’ added Young. “The one yard off the line of scrimmage is another, but being one yard off a receiver means you have to be quicker on your feet.”

Athleticism is key and Young fits the bill.

On Friday, the true test will arrive for both Young and Thomas, a moment neither envisioned.

frank.zicarelli@sunmedia.ca


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