King of poker and punts

KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 11:36 AM ET

Under a sunny sky in Winnipeg's Osborne Village on Canada Day, a 10-player celebrity poker tournament was down to its final two.

The last men standing were none other than Winnipeg Blue Bombers placekicker Troy Westwood and punter Jon Ryan.

He doesn't remember the winning hand, but Ryan toppled his crafty kicking partner to take the tournament.

"I would say Jon is just about as good a poker player as he is a punter," Westwood said. "He knows his game. He's got good game. I tip my hat to him. He's the king of the locker-room."

BABYFACE, POKERFACE

So just how, exactly, does the 23-year-old CFL sophomore -- with a face that will get him carded at the bar until he's 50 -- bet and bluff his way to poker stardom?

"Discipline, hard work, dedication -- and he can read someone like a cheap romance novel," Westwood said.

Ryan, the quiet redhead with the CFL's strongest leg, was his usual humble self when asked about his Texas Hold 'Em skills. Ryan denied it, but some of his teammates confirmed that he won another poker tournament in Little Italy during training camp.

"I wouldn't say I'm the king," Ryan said. "Troy gives me a run for my money quite often."

Ryan took home a poker table for winning the Canada Day tournament, while Westwood won a set of poker chips.

They put their winnings together and play about three times a week. Teammates are welcome to come and donate some cash.

"I don't know if I can drop any names," Ryan said, "but there's guys who struggle, let's put it that way."

The Regina native is not struggling in the punting department, and he hopes to help his Bombers (1-4) win their second straight game tomorrow afternoon in Toronto against the Argos (3-2).

Ryan has a towering 52.3-yard gross punting average and a sparkling 42.1-yard net mark, which factors in the number of yards the ball is returned.

"When you look at net punting, that's definitely a team stat," Ryan said. "The guys have done a great job covering, making tackles down field."

CLASH OF PUNTING TITANS

Astoundingly, only Toronto's Noel Prefontaine has a gross average (44.8) that is longer than Ryan's net mark, which means tomorrow's contest will feature the league's top two pigskin propellers.

"I definitely watched him a lot growing up," said Ryan, who was 16 years old when Prefontaine began his CFL career. "... I actually watched him a lot last year. He started to change the way that people look at punters and kickers. He'll tuck the ball. He'll run.

"He's changing what people think of kickers."

So is Ryan. Now built like a linebacker after adding more than 20 pounds of muscle in the off-season, he is on pace to have the best gross punting average in CFL history.

"It's a pretty good feeling when you see a returner look up and the next thing you see is his back," he said. "It's kind of like a guy turning his head at a poker table when you roll over your pocket aces."

Ryan, however, doesn't plan on gambling too much when it comes to Argo punt returners Bashir Levingston and Arland Bruce III, if he's healthy enough to play.

"We don't want to put it in Bruce's or Levingston's hands in the middle of the field or anything," Ryan said. "If they're gonna catch it in bounds, you want it to be pretty close to the sideline.

"You don't want to give them a lot of room."


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