Scott Paxson may never replace SJ Green on the Alouettes’ hands-team, but given his patience, you should never say never.
The second-year defensive tackle showed rare form for a lineman in the Als’ home opener victory against the BC Lions. The Philadelphia native can only hope his first interception followed by a perfect lateral toss to Chip Cox for pick-six helps him grab hold of a starting job.
“The Lateral” by Paxson upstaged “The Catch” by Green. Though they play opposite sides of the football, both men know timing is everything. Sometimes even their great timing has been awful.
Take the Penn State alum making only his fourth career start with Montreal. A pick, a forced fumble and a key tackle for loss might get you CFL defensive player of the week honours – unless your teammate happens to be John Bowman, who matched his career high with 4 sacks in the same game.
The 6’4, 292-pound load was a highlight-reel rookie for his unexpected creativity. SJ has made finger-trip grabs worthy of The Incredibles before.
Both were moments that flash before you, a lifetime in the making.
Paxson has always prided himself on his precious mitts. He was an aspiring tight end at Penn State until Joe Paterno imperiously declared one day “you’re on defence.” Problem was Paxson was caught on the depth chart behind a certain Cam Wake, who would leave pounded quarterbacks in his wake through CFL and NFL stardom.
“Wake was so good at busting up plays in practice sometimes I’d get to go back to TE on scout team,” the good-natured Paxson recalled for me recently. “No one else could handle him.”
“As a big man, I always prided myself on my passing ability in basketball too,” says the patient strong-man who had been on GM Jim Popp’s neg list for years.
“Obviously Joe Paterno recruited versatile athletes because Jim Kelly was asked to be a linebacker at Penn State and ended up in Miami as a quarterback,” Popp says with a chuckle.
“Scott is a real solid individual and just fits in with everybody. We’ve been trying to get him to come up here at least 4 or 5 years.”
“I had a Georgia Tech coach send me a message saying ‘Hey we’d like to recruit him as our option QB’ since they saw the play.”
Popp admits it’s rare for a D-tackle to show “The Wow Factor” handling the football, but somehow he just never got that opportunity over the better part of 6 years with the Steelers or Browns organizations.
Opportunity is something that flashed before the eyes of SJ Green in 2010 faster than you can throw the replay challenge flag of life...or hit the snooze button.
After three years as a backup in Montreal, he won Spring Camp opportunity with the New York Jets. One CFL source tells me the former South Florida Bull was cut unceremoniously in a so-called New York minute after his roommate failed to wake him up for a team function. No fun being made a message.
What must have been a crushing wakeup call fueled the 6’3, 220 pound target to return immediately to Montreal where he’s averaged more than 1,000 yards pass-catching per season since, scoring 31 TDS in just 4 years.
SJ doesn’t just make the catches. He makes the astonishing catches.
“That’s one thing I learned from Mr. Cahoon (2014 Canadian Football Hall of Fame Inductee Ben Cahoon) back in his day,” Green reveals. “I practice making the tough catches like he did on the Jugs machine. I do that in the off season.”
Green’s one-armed bandit routine fully extended may not even have been his toughest grab last week at McGill Stadium. Though clearly out of bounds, he ran through defenders, teammates at the Montreal bench, smoothly avoiding potentially dangerous collision with a lengthy electronic advertising board.
Just SJ going about his business, in a season when Popp hopes Chad Johnson raises the bar for all.
“I looked at it (the Ocho-arrival) as a chance to learn, not as a threat,” says the CFL East All-Star 3 years running. “I’m learning how Jim thinks on these things. I just take it as a chance to learn from a guy I think should be in the NFL Hall of Fame.”
“I’ve learned a lot from him, small subtle things and how to approach different situations...life, football.”
Like sometimes greed is good. A lesson that’s grabbed hold with Paxson.
“I know I have good hands and I wish I’d scored (against BC), but we’ll see,” he says. “The selfish in me says I can take one to the house.”
Just keeping a starting job will be an accomplishment.
“I really feel like I should be in there,” Paxson says “I feel I can help this team out.”
“As long as he keeps creating turnovers,” Popp suggests.
Rick Moffat is the Voice of the Montreal Alouettes on CJAD 800. He works alongside former CFL Dave Mudge. Moffat's first attended Grey Cup was as a fan in '77 - the infamous Tony Proudfoot "Staple Game". Rick is proud to say he had his first beer at an Als' game during the Marv Levy Era. Follow Rick on Twitter @RickMoffat.