Great expectations for Fantuz

Andy Fantuz signed with the Ticats in February after six seasons with the Roughriders. (Dave...

Andy Fantuz signed with the Ticats in February after six seasons with the Roughriders. (Dave Abel/QMI Agency/Files)

MARK MALONE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:39 AM ET

CHATHAM, ONT. - Andy Fantuz doesn't want to be the straw that stirs the drink, as Reggie Jackson famously called himself.

He doesn't expect to single-handedly deliver the Hamilton Tiger-Cats their first Grey Cup in 13 years.

The premier free agent of the CFL off-season just wants to be a piece in a championship puzzle.

“It's just part of the gig, I guess,” the Chatham native said about the hype. “It's going to be different. I'm just trying to fit in however I can fit in to make the team better.

“The team already has its leaders and guys who do certain things. And I want to be one of the leaders, but I'm not going to step on anyone's toes.”

Fantuz signed in February with the Ticats after six seasons with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

The 28-year-old slotback spent much of the past month training in Hamilton with some of his new teammates. The Ticats also held a three-day minicamp in April.

“It's different,” Fantuz said. “It's a big change. But it's fun. It's exciting. I really like the guys so far and I know the relationships are going to grow and we're going to work well together.

“It's a totally new challenge, but it makes things interesting.”

Other new faces include quarterback Henry Burris, who spent the past seven seasons in Calgary. He was traded to Hamilton in December.

Fantuz has high expectations for the duo, and so do the fans.

“The whole Tiger Town is pretty excited to get going here,” the McGregor graduate said. “The buzz is crazy and definitely there's a lot to get excited about. A lot of changes – new coaches, new players. And the last season at the stadium.”

The Ticats began training camp Saturday and two-a-day workouts Sunday.

After playing only four games last year, Fantuz is thrilled to be running routes again.

“I feel like I haven't played ball in awhile,” he said.

Fantuz signed with the Chicago Bears in February 2011 after being chosen the CFL's most outstanding Canadian in 2010.

He didn't see much action in the NFL pre-season, however, and was released before the regular season.

He returned to the Roughriders midway through the CFL season, but a right ankle sprain limited him to 13 catches for 175 yards and no touchdowns. All were career-lows.

“It was a really weird year,” he said.

When asked about his ankle, Fantuz jokes that he can't remember which one was injured. The rehab went that well.

“It feels good,” he said. “It feels strong. I've been working it out and I know I'm ready to go. I get to push it here in camp.

“I'm not worried about it at all. I'm not going to baby it in camp. I don't even think about it.”

Fantuz said if he hadn't gone to Chicago, he probably would have signed an extension before last season to stay with the Roughriders.

Instead, he chose to play closer to home after an injury-plagued year.

“Things happen for a reason,” he said.

Saying goodbye to the Roughriders and their fans wasn't easy. He was one of their most popular players and even had his own brand of cereal, Fantuz Flakes.

“I really enjoyed my time out there,” he said. “People out there really welcomed me in and it was like a second home to me.”

But, he said, “southwestern Ontario is definitely the place for me to be.”

His family is happy he's come home. More than 100 relatives will be in the stands for the Ticats' regular-season opener in three weeks.

Being able to play close to his loved ones was a big reason he signed with Hamilton.

“I'm fortunate to have the support I do and it's nice to be playing close to home so family and friends can make the games,” Fantuz said.

Their season opener is June 29 in Hamilton against – who else? – the Roughriders.

“It's still part of me,” Fantuz said about his former club. “I have a lot of friends on the team and in the community. Part of me still wants them to do well and will be cheering for them, except when they're playing us.”

He went to three Grey Cups with the Riders and won the championship in 2007.

The Ticats, on the other hand, have the second-longest championship drought in the CFL. They haven't been to the Grey Cup since winning in 1999.

“I just want to get to the Grey Cup,” he said. “We have a great squad. We just have to put all the pieces together.”

He isn't setting any goals for catches or receiving yards this season. He's focused on only the Cup.

“Personally, I want to stay healthy and contribute however I can contribute, whatever the coach asks me to do,” he said.

He's excited to be part of a deep receiving corps that includes Bakari Grant, Chris Williams, Aaron Kelly and Dave Stala.

“We're going to complement each other well and when we put everybody on the field, we're going to be hard to stop,” Fantuz said.


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