Andy Fantuz can’t wait to get going. He had been a popular member of the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ receiving corps from 2006 to 2011. In February he signed a four-year deal with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. So it’s appropriate that the first team he faces is his old club, the Green Riders.
The Saskatchewan-Hamilton tilt is the first of a full roster of contests which will kick off the 2012 season on Canada Day weekend, and Fantuz is looking forward to it. He was born and raised in Chatham and went to college at the University of Western Ontario. So he’s a local guy — he estimates he’ll have about 150 family members and friends attending at Ivor Wynne Stadium. Yet it’s fair to say that many fans still associate him with the Green Riders. Now is the time for him to make a new impression in the minds of CFL supporters.
“You have to be a team player and that’s the way you win,” Fantuz said. “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.”
“I’ve been fortunate that I’ve had a lot of support my whole career,” Fantuz added in an interview. “There will be people coming for all of the games and especially for this first one because it’s a Friday night game, it’s the first game of the season and it’s against the Riders. There is a lot of excitement in the air.”
Fantuz will be one of several players to watch in this matchup. Avon Cobourne has gone from selling insurance to carrying the ball again after a season-ending injury to Martell Mallett. He may have worn a suit and tie in the working world, but he showed in a pre-season win over Winnipeg that he still has the toughness to make plays.
Henry Burris also has something to prove. The longtime Calgary Stampeders pivot is now under center in Steeltown, with a solid block of receivers including Fantuz, Dave Stala, Bakari Grant, Chris Williams and Sam Giguere. With Cobourne thrown into that rich mix, Smilin’ Hank has the manpower to get the ball into the end zone. On the other sie of the ball, it will be up to new Roughrider Odell Willis, a former member of the Blue Bombers’ “Swaggerville” defense, to be able to penetrate the Ticats’ offensive line and disrupt Burris as much as possible.
Darian Durant and the Saskatchewan offense will be put to the test; top pick Ben Heenan will see his first pro action while trying to protect Durant from the Ticats’ pass rush. No wonder Fantuz can’t wait.