Most of the Argos on the practice field were wearing a variety of casual workout wear. Shorts, track pants, sweats. All dark blue or black. They all blended into a mass of similarly shaded legs.
Then there was Swayze Waters, the rehabbing punter/placekicker, sticking out from that group with a pair of Argos uniform-issue whites, double blue stripes down the side.
Swayze Waters is ready. He has his game pants on.
"Being out for so long," he began, "I wanted to kind of simulate the game feel, you know? It's a big difference from practice and so I just wanted to give it the most game-like feel that I could. I like 'em."
Why not wear the jersey too?
"I'll save that for Saturday," he grinned, alluding to his return to CFL action against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, in Regina.
Waters usually has at least a crease of a smile on his face, but the full on grin came from a man who is definitely ready to get back at it after a nine game absence. Especially one brought on by an injury caused by nothing seemingly out of the ordinary and after an off-season of rigorous training.
“It’s going to be a bit of a transition. We’ve worked on it some in practice. But I don’t just try to kick it far. I also try to have some hang time to correlate with the distance. Last year we had a few early in the season that were an issue but by the end of the season I thought our coverage teams were great.”
- Argos kicker Swayze Waters on trying to get more hang-time on his punts, similar to that of Noel Prefontaine.
“I was in the best shape I’ve been in since I’ve been playing football, coming into the season, strength-wise,” he said of the disappointment. “To get injured in the first game and have to sit out, I didn’t really get to showcase my hard work. I was hoping to be a contributor to the team. That part was tough.”
When Waters stepped into a ball to get the second half of the opening game of the season underway, he did it while feeling perfectly healthy. No sign of risk, no aches , pains or strains.
“Business as usual," he remembered. "I went through my kickoff steps and when I was transitioning from my backswing to my follow through something just pulled. I knew it wasn’t good."
That was more than two months ago. Now, things are good. Waters has been booming big, deep punts at practice for a couple of weeks, looking every bit like the guy who finished the 2012 season with an average of just shy of 45 yards. All systems go there. As for kicking off, after a bit of discomfort in practice last week, he feels that's no longer an issue either. Part of the reason is that he'll hammer footballs off tees with a little less ferocity now.
“I’m gonna try not to go after it too much because a yard here and there on a kick-off isn’t gonna make a huge difference in the scheme of things. Just try to keep my health right now.”
Not that you should notice a big, big difference in his yardage, if Waters is correct in assuming that a leg swing and a golf swing are analogous.
“I’ve kinda taken the approach that less is more," he said. "It’s kind of like golf where you find out that sometimes when you don’t swing as hard you hit it just as far and you’re more consistent.”
As Waters returns, veteran Noel Prefontaine slips into the background. His 41.1 yard punting average has been coming up a little of late, but it is clear that his leg does not pack the punch that Waters' does. Part of the reason for that, head coach Scott Milanovich says, is that Prefontaine has been battling his own ailments.
“Pre did a phenomenal job for us," the coach enthused. "A lot of people don’t know he was fighting injuries. His hamstring and a sore knee. Just continued to go out there and get us through and do his job. I’m very thankful that he was there and available for us to bring in."
While having a younger, healthier punter in the team's midst seems a surefire way to improve the Argos' lot in the field position battle, don't forget that the team was leading the league in confining enemy punt returners to just over 4 yards per attempt, with Prefontaine in the line up.
“Pre wasn’t kicking it as far, but we were covering better," said Milanovich.
“Hang time is more important than length. And net is more important than your gross punt average,” he added.
Waters knows this too. So he'll be doing his best to ensure his longer punts also come with more height, lest he be guilty of the age old danger of out-kicking the coverage.
“Our coverage teams are used to that," said Waters of Prefontaine's type of punting. "So it’s going to be a bit of a transition. We’ve worked on it some in practice. But I don’t just try to kick it far. I also try to have some hang time to correlate with the distance. Last year we had a few early in the season that were an issue but by the end of the season I thought our coverage teams were great.”
Milanovich agreed with that assessment and declared that he was satisfied with the arc he sees on Waters' punts. "He’s kicking it high and far right now and we’ll take that.”
There is a third element to Waters' hoofing chores and that would be place kicking. Of late, Prefontaine and holder Trevor Harris have had their troubles converting field goal attempts and Waters has some sympathy for their struggles. As well as an explanation.
“It was unnatural for him (Harris) on that other side, holding for a lefty and really with not much time to prepare," said Waters. Harris had held for right-footed kickers, Waters included, for along, long time. Flipping to the other side of the tee to hold for Prefontaine was not easy.
Now that Harris is back to what he knows best, Waters thinks the comfort is back.
"From what we worked on the last few days and how we kicked in practice I feel confident. I don’t have any issues. I’m confident in him. And he’s confident too.”
"Sounds like everything's just fine," I say to Waters.
“Everything seems good. I’m just ready to play," is his reply. Swayze's got his game pants on.
The Extra Point
Linebacker Jason Pottinger is once again spearheading an effort to help children in Kenya.
Pottinger is one of the driving forces behind the third annual "Tackles For Toilets," which helps raise funds in order to provide clean bathroom facilities for Kenyan primary school students.
Without clean facilities, schools can be forced to close for health reasons, depriving many youngsters of a chance for an education.
Gold tickets for the Argos' next home game (October 4th versus the Hamilton Ticats) can be purchased for $82.00, with $40.00 going to the charity and the ticket buyer receiving a tax receipt for that amount. Bronze level seats can be bought for $36.00, with a tax receipt for $17.00 to the purchaser.
Buyers are also eligible for special halftime draws and keepsakes.
To order tickets, call 905-529-9799.
A freelance broadcaster and writer, Don is also the in-stadium announcer for Toronto Argonauts home games. A familiar voice to Toronto sports fans, he hosted the morning show at The FAN for more than 10 years. Follow Don on Twitter @CFLLandry