TORONTO - Argos kicker Swayze Waters is in the process of learning to fly fish.
Based on the patience he has shown thus far in his young football career, we’re giving him very good odds to perfect that particular endeavour.
Waters, for the first time since his college football days, is feeling pretty good about the craft that pays his bills, namely kicking a football, whether it’s through uprights or to would-be returners.
Waters has always believed he could handle the job. He has a booming leg, one capable of hitting field goals from as far out as 70 yards. Finding a team to commit to him was the tough part.
Sadly for kickers, the opportunities are not only few and far between, but even when you do well it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be employed.
For whatever reason, it seems a lot tougher for kickers to break into the pro ranks than at any other position.
For the past four years, Waters — and you can say this about just any kicker looking to catch on in the pros — has been to countless camps, attended countless tryouts and been tied to at least six different teams — four in the NFL and two in the CFL.
But getting a foot inside the pro ranks, particularly the NFL where kickers seem to hold onto their jobs for decades, has proven a tough nut to crack.
“I think it’s because kickers aren’t developed in the NFL,” Swayze offered. “They expect you to come in and be the guy and when you get there they expect you to be there a long time. I think their theory is if one of their guys messes up, there’s 10 or 15 guys like myself that they can call on Wednesday morning, fly up Wednesday afternoon and play in a game on Sunday.”
Undrafted out of the University of Alabama/Birmingham, Waters signed on with the Detroit Lions just after the draft. They kept him around for a piece before cutting him. Then they brought him back in August. Then they cut him again before the month was out.
This isn’t unusual for young kickers trying to make their way.
Ask Justin Medlock, previously of your Toronto Argos and Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Medlock went through the same show-us-what-you-can-do, OK-thanks-for-coming-out merry go-round before finally landing a legitimate shot at an NFL job. His perseverance appears to be paying off with his best shot to date at an NFL job as he and veteran Olindo Mare are taking it down to the wire for the kicking job with the Carolina Panthers.
Waters went from Detroit to Oakland, Oakland to Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh to what he thought was an opportunity with the New York Jets only to find out that the team hadn’t even filed his contract with the league after he had a good showing at a kicking camp in Arizona.
Still Waters refused to get discouraged.
“It’s hard to get opportunities so when you do, even just a workout, you’re grateful,” he said. “I know guys who are great kickers who are still practising every day and they are not getting any opportunities. It has made me feel more blessed and grateful when I do get an opportunity. I might say ‘Oh, that wasn’t a fair shot’ but at least I’m getting looks and that’s what most important.”
Waters actually had offers from both the Kansas City Chiefs and the Jets coming out of that Arizona camp last spring, but chose the Jets because he thought there was a better chance at employment there. And there was, until the Jets signed veteran kicker Josh Brown. It was then that he found out the Jets had not even turned in the contract he had signed to the league.
Fortunately for Waters the Edmonton Eskimos also had a representative at that camp and they offered him a chance in the CFL.
But it wasn’t until the Argos came calling shortly after Noel Prefontaine decided it was time to surgically look after a long-standing hip problem, that the 25-year-old Jackson, Miss., native could finally feel some level of security.
Currently he’s riding a string of nine consecutive made field goals. In the four games since he joined Toronto, Waters has only missed two of his 14 attempts.
His punting has also been very good as he leads the league with a net punt average of 41 yards, a huge improvement over the 30.9 net yards Prefontaine was giving the Argos.
“For the first time in a long time, I really feel like a part of a team,” Waters said. “I have a really good relationship with a lot of these guys. The locker room is really fun. Not that it’s not work, but I think I kick much better when I go out and know that it’s not do or die on every single kick.
When you put that kind of pressure on yourself it just makes it tougher because you tense up and that’s kind of what I’ve been dealing with the last few years.
As for the fly fishing, Waters only bought his first rod on the team’s most recent road stop in Calgary. An avid outdoorsman, Waters noticed a fly fishing store right next to the team hotel and after a few visits, made the purchase. He even tried it out a short hike from the store in the Bow River.
As Waters puts it, he didn’t catch anything but he got a good feel for the technique.
He’s looking around Mississauga for another place to try his hand at it. It’s not an easy sport to master and one that takes plenty of perseverance and determination. Sadly for the local fish population, Waters is stacked in both departments.