A second chance

Members of the Toronto Argonauts do laps during the team's training camp at Erindale College in...

Members of the Toronto Argonauts do laps during the team's training camp at Erindale College in Mississauga Monday. (Toronto Sun/Mark O'Neill)

PERRY LEFKO -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:05 AM ET

The words "second chance" have been tossed around like a football in the daily chronicles of the 2006 Argos.

Whether it's to do with Miami Dolphins running back Ricky Williams -- suspended for the 2006 National Football League season because of repeated substance abuse violations but hoping to play for the Argos if contractual issues are resolved -- or other players with checkered backgrounds, "second chance" invariably is sprinkled into the dialogue.

But there are some players currently in the Argos' training camp who have been given a different kind of second chance. It has nothing to do with character issues or wrong decisions, but the collapse of a football team.

When the Ottawa Renegades became a casualty this year because of faulty ownership and the Canadian Football League's decision to operate with eight franchises instead of nine, many football players wondered if they would be given another chance at employment.

Some were snagged in the dispersal draft of the Renegades roster, while others found jobs through the free-agency route. Some, however, weren't so fortunate and are waiting and wondering if they have played their final game. They don't have the luxury of a team going through legal hoops to sign them. They are not Ricky Williams, who is a special player accorded special treatment.

Cornerback Dave Donaldson, defensive tackle Marc Pilon, receiver David Azzi and running back Sean Bennett, all of whom are one-time Renegades, are battling for jobs at Argos training camp. Donaldson and Pilon are scheduled to either start or back up at their respective positions. Azzi and Bennett both are in a dogfight to crack the roster.

"It's a privilege to play the game, that's how I look at it every year," said Donaldson, who entered the league in 1997 with the B.C. Lions as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Manitoba.

The Argos are Donaldson's fourth team.

"Especially last year after Ottawa folding, it's harder to get a job because there's less opportunities," he said. "I feel even more privileged that I'm part of an organization that's a playoff contender every year. I'm hoping to be a piece of the puzzle.

"This is like rejuvenation. It's like I'm a rookie or a young guy all over again. I don't know how many more years I have left. Now I'm taking it year by year and I'm hoping I can finish off strong."

Pilon, selected fourth overall by the Calgary Stampeders in the first round of the 1999 draft out of Syracuse University, is playing for his fifth team in eight years. He became that much more important to the team yesterday when second-year defensive tackle Jeff Keeping suffered a right knee injury that could be serious. Pilon's career has been up and down, but last year -- his first and only season in Ottawa -- set a standard for all the wrong reasons.

"It was chaos," he said bluntly. "It was uncertainty and very stressful when you don't know if you're going to have a job ... and what kind of organization we're even going to have. Especially being in my home town, it was pretty stressful, to say the least.

"This is totally different -- black and white -- and the good thing is it's probably the best place I could have ended up. It's close to home. It's a good position for me. I like the defence a lot. I'm just here to take a job, that's all I'm here for."

Donaldson said in all his previous CFL years, he never had gone through anything similar to last season.

"I don't even want to go there," he said, laughing at the experience. "I don't even want to talk about the past now. I'm just looking toward the future. I've been part of some good organizations in my career. Ottawa was an experience that I hope no other player in the CFL ever experiences and I hope that things work out over there one day. I try to forget what that was. It was like I was in the Twilight Zone. It was a little weird for me because I wasn't used to that. I've just got to move on. I'm lucky to have a job again."


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