It’s not that big a stretch to say Justin Medlock has helped Ticats head coach Marcel Bellefeuille sleep better in 2011 than he ever did in 2010.
Medlock, the American kicker with the booming leg and equally impressive accuracy has taken the biggest question mark about the Ticats of a year ago and turned it into almost a sure thing.
He’s not quite Mr. Automatic, but he’s the next best thing to it.
On 22 occasions this year, Bellefeuille has turned to his kicker and asked him to put three points on the board. Nineteen times he has completed the assignment successfully.
Two of the misses came from 50-plus yards. One from 52 and the other from 54 yards out. The third miss was a 28 yarder in a game earlier this year against B.C. that Medlock admits he just flubbed.
Medlock is with his third CFL team in the past three years, but that has more to do with his birth certificate — using an American kicker is considered a luxury in the CFL — than it has to do with his abilities.
Ironically his arrival comes a year after the Ticats opened the vault to bring Sandro DeAngelis, a five-year CFL veteran and the most accurate kicker in CFL history back to Ontario.
The Niagara Falls native struggled in the black and gold, hitting just over 76% of his attempts and not one all year beyond 45 yards. It left Bellefeuille and company in the unenviable position of having to gamble on third down or kick the ball away when the field goal attempt was beyond that range.
There are no such worries with Medlock who has been successful from 55 already this year and has the leg to better that yet.
He’s fairly confident that given the right circumstances he could do it from beyond 60, but it would only make sense to try that at the end of a half or regulation.
“I’ll never say no,” Medlocks said. “For me, I mean I just want to bang them. It doesn’t matter to me. I’ll kick from 62.”
Bellefeuille was complimentary of Medlock’s kickoff accomplishments too, but admits knowing he has a kicker with the kind of range that Medlock has gives him an edge on every other coach in the league when it comes to field goals.
“It makes you feel good,” Bellefeuille said. “It makes you feel confident that you can get those points when you cross the 50 or when you’re crossing midfield you know you’re approaching scoring territory and that’s important for all of us,” he said.
Marwan Hage, the longest serving Ticat and the starting centre was there to witness DeAngelis’ struggles a year ago and saw the impact that kind of uncertainty can have on a football team. To this day, he has no idea why DeAngelis wasn’t able to reproduce what he did in Calgary with the Tiger Cats, but with Medlock doing what he does, the Ticats kicking game breeds confidence.
“Those points add up in the end,” Hage said. “A lot of times they are the difference makers in the game.”
Monday’s Labour Day tilt with the Montreal Alouettes and the return meeting less than a week later in Montreal will pit two of the league’s most accurate kickers up against one another. B.C.’s Paul McCallum is also in the conversation with a 92% accuracy mark.
Sean Whyte, who won the job out of training camp in Montreal over the previously mentioned DeAngelis who remains on the Alouettes 46-man roster, brings a streak of 22 consecutive successful attempts into Ivor Wynne.
Medlock is well aware of Whyte’s feats. “He’s a Facebook friend of mind and he’s been posting a lot,” Medlock says. And while the constant updates may get a bit annoying, he has no problem with someone else being happy for themselves. Medlock though adds he isn’t sure he’ll ever be the type to put such a streak together.
Not when he’s attempting 50-plus yarders, a kick he has tried in each of the past five games and been successful on three of them.
Whyte has not tried a kick beyond 48 yards this year and has only nine makes beyond 40 in the 22-kick streak.
Medlock’s five attempts from beyond 50 yards are one more than the rest of the league’s kickers have attempted combined.
Medlock says the key for him when it comes to the long field goals is a perfect hold and it’s here where he gives backup quarterback Jason Boltus who serves as his holder all kinds of credit.
“My personality is I’m very hard on my holders,” Medlock admits. “I knew coming in he was the third-string quarterback so right away I said to him, ‘Hey, let’s work on this.’
“We went through some really tough growing pains in training camp,” Medlock said. “I mean I didn’t even make a 50-yarder. But he’s done a great job and I know it’s not easy holding for a left-footed kicker.”
The situation has kind of worked out for all involved. Medlock has found a place he can thrive and perhaps put down some roots while the kicking uncertainty of a year ago has definitely been left in the past.