Rookie is popular in Hamilton as team staggers but would prefer to attract attention for playing feats
By Herb Zurkowsky,
He has played only seven games for his team, and yet, the hottest-selling item in the Ticats Store in Jackson Square is the Jesse Lumsden sweater. That might say as much about his golden locks, boyish good looks and sculpted physique as anything he has done on the field.
Despite his minimal playing time, yet he's the Tiger-Cats' nominee as outstanding rookie. That might say as much about the pitiful state of this team as it does about Lumsden's play out of the team's backfield and the anticipation with which his signing was met.
“I'm no saviour. I'm a football player, and that's all I am,” Lumsden said on Sept. 12, when he was signed for a year and an option by Hamilton, which selected the 23-year-old sixth overall last April in the Canadian college draft, then waited patiently while he attended training camp with the Seattle Seahawks – an exercise in futility, because Lumsden was released without playing a down for the NFL club.
The signing of the Burlington, Ont., native has given the Ticats reason for hope in an underachieving season, which ended with last night's game against the Alouettes. Lumsden, the organization hopes, is its future – the name and face football fans will identify with.
Few CFL signings have come with higher expectations and Lumsden has been the focus of considerable attention over the last two months. He already has been the subject of a Hamilton Hottie photo spread in the Spectator newspaper; the hype and publicity seemingly never-ending.
“I think he's done a great job and, to tell you the truth, I don't know how,” said Ron Lancaster, the Ticats' former general manager who drafted the 6-foot-2, 226-pounder out of Hamilton's McMaster University. “In my opinion, everyone's been unfair to him. The pressure on him is unnecessary. He's handled it the right way and the players have more respect for him. They've found out he's a good guy, a down-to-earth person.
“There are things he needs to learn and things we need to learn about him. He has a tendency to hesitate as he hits the hole. That's his running style, because he's a big, tall kid. We have to find the area from where his stride hits. But he's on an agenda. He's got a chance to have a good career.”
Lumsden had rushed 48 times for 230 yards, including a 43-yard romp, scoring once before facing Montreal. He also had 10 catches for 147 yards, including a 78-yard touchdown on a screen pass. Lumsden, whose change of speed is one of his best attributes, has worked diligently on his game and has displayed a combination of power, acceleration and shiftiness.
He inherited the team's starting tailback job when Hamilton traded veteran Troy Davis to Edmonton last month.
“He's done a very good job in a short period of time,” said Ticats head coach Greg Marshall, who joined Hamilton last season from McMaster. “He's becoming a complete running back. He's impressed me with how he has handled the situation, how professional he has been. In a short period, he has earned a lot of respect in the locker room and has handled the attention very well.”
Lumsden captured the Hec Crighton award as Canadian college football's top player in 2004, when he set single-season records for touchdowns and rushing yards, with 1,816. He also completed his Ontario University Athletics career with 4,328 yards.
“I've just tried to stay focused on football and the team,” he said. “That extra stuff – the media attention and silly stuff – wasn't as important.
“I'm just one player among many. I can't make a difference on my own. This is a team sport. I feel comfortable with the offence and the guys I'm playing with, and I'll do whatever I can to help the team get wins.”