Andy Fantuz figures he’ll have a minimum of 150 friends and family on hand for his first official game in a Hamilton Tiger-Cats uniform.
And there’s a good chance the streets of Chatham may be empty around 7 p.m., on Friday night.
While that may sound like a lot of pressure for a young man, Fantuz was showing none of it on Thursday morning as the Ticats wrapped up their game prep with a walk-through.
The fact that the game comes against his former team makes it only more exciting according to Fantuz, who was born in Chatham and starred at the University of Western Ontario.
For the previous six years, minus an aborted attempt at the NFL that cut into his 2011 season, Fantuz had been a rather big piece of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. But the chance to come home to southern Ontario, not to mention a sizeable pay cheque to do so, put that in the past.
Playing against one’s former team for the first time is never an easy thing, especially when you made the decision to move on. But for Fantuz, Friday’s game is as much about getting back on the field as it is about who he will be playing against.
His 2011 CFL season was limited to four games and just 13 catches, seven of those in a meaningless season-ender against eventual Grey Cup-champion B.C. Lions.
So, re-establishing himself in the CFL is going to be a big part of Friday’s game.
“Mostly excitement,” Fantuz said of his feeling on the eve of the season opener. “Mostly just to get back on the field and start the CFL season. It feels like it has been an extra long off-season for myself. It will be nice to see all the guys before the game but, once we come back out from warmups, it will be all business and it will just be a football game.”
Fantuz feels he has managed to keep the “background noise” to a minimum as he finds his way with a new team in his old stamping grounds.
“Rider Nation is one of a kind, but Tigertown is extremely passionate,” Fantuz said playing it right down the middle and trying not to offend his old or his new fans.
And don’t try and pin down Fantuz on any personal goals for the year. He has only one goal in mind that he will state publicly.
“Win. If we win, it’s all good,” he said. “You have to be a team player and that’s the way you win. Whatever you are asked to do, you have to do it the best you can. Whether I catch 10 passes or make 10 good blocks or whatever it is, I just don’t want any mental mistakes.”
Fantuz was asked if he would prefer this first game in Hamilton be against someone other than the Roughriders.
“No, I think this is great,” he said. “It’s great for the league, I think there is a great buzz around the whole last season of Ivor Wynne. Maybe for the others, it might not be a big deal, but my family and my following are really excited about this game.”
As a visitor to Ivor Wynne, Fantuz could often count on as many as 100 friends and family to make the trek to Hamilton, but this time the stakes are a little higher. The 150 he knows are coming is actually just the beginning. He expects others will find their way to Ivor Wynne, as well, unbeknownst to him.
Quarterback Henry Burris, who will be making the reads and deciding where the ball goes, doesn’t anticipate any concerns over getting Fantuz his share of the offence in the game.
“I’m going to manage the game,” Burris said. “That’s what I get paid to do as a quarterback. If the defence gives us an opportunity to take advantage of a situation and we make the right play call and we see a fit, then 83 will get the ball at that point in time. But trust me, I will not force the ball. I will play within the confines of our offence and be smart with it.”
Fantuz seemed a little taken aback when it was suggested that the circumstances being what they are and the attention he’s expected to receive from the Saskatchewan defence, his role could wind up being primarily a decoy all night.
“I guess it’s a possibility, but I haven’t thought about it,” he said. “We have a great offensive system and if they try to take something away, there’s going to be something else there.”