HAMILTON — Kent Austin knew the question was coming.
On Friday, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats introduced quarterback Zach Collaros, who signed Thursday after being released by the Toronto Argonauts earlier in the week. And the first question put to Austin, the club’s head coach and GM, was if Collaros was the Ticats’ starter.
“Listen, we signed Zach for a reason,” he said. “We believe we have a proven player, a proven starter.
“The great thing about Zach is one of the first things he said to me on the phone a couple of days ago was, ‘Coach, I don’t expect to be given anything. I’ll earn what I get,’ and that’s exactly the type of player we have.
“We don’t distinguish a lot between starters and backups on this football team. Everybody we require we expect to play at a high level and Zach will have every opportunity to be our guy.”
Collaros, 25, posted a 5-2 record as a starter with Toronto last year while subbing for injured starter Ricky Ray. The six-foot-two, 216-pound Collaros completed 190-of-287 passes (66.2 per cent) for 2,316 yards with 14 TDs and six interceptions.
He also ran 59 times for 246 yards and scored five TDs.
Collaros was scheduled to become a free agent Feb. 15 and Toronto attempted to re-sign him. But with Collaros intent on testing the free-agent waters, the Argos released him early to gain clarity on his situation prior to the start of free agency.
Collaros spent two seasons with Toronto, earning a Grey Cup ring in 2012.
“I kind of lucked out coming to this league with such a great group around me and I was able to learn a lot of things from them that’s translated to the field,” Collaros said of the Argos. “I wouldn’t have this opportunity right now if it wasn’t for them.”
Collaros joins a Hamilton team that reached the 2013 Grey Cup under veteran quarterback Henry Burris before losing 45-23 to the hometown Saskatchewan Roughriders. Like Collaros, Burris was slated to become a free agent next month but was released by the Ticats shortly after Collaros’s signing.
“I know he (Burris) is going to be successful wherever he lands”’ Austin said. “He was an unbelievable person to coach, player to coach.
“I had a great discussion with him (Thursday) and let him know no matter what he does, where he goes football out of football that he has an advocate in this organization and with me personally to help him in any way.”
Burris, 38, is a two-time Grey Cup champion (1998, ’08), a Grey Cup MVP (’08) and in 2010 was the league’s outstanding player. With over 50,000 career passing yards, the 15-year veteran – who is reportedly attracting much interest in Winnipeg – is a sure-fire selection into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame after he retires.
But Collaros isn’t worrying about following in Burris’s footsteps.
“Definitely some expectations there,” he said. “I think we all know Henry Burris is a Hall of Fame player in this league.
“I can’t think about things like that. I had to fill in for Ricky Ray last year and I didn’t think about it. I just went about my work during the week and prepared and we were fortunate enough to win a lot of games and it got me this opportunity. If I think about that, it’s going to hinder me.”
Collaros helped break the hearts of Ticats fans to finish the 2012 regular season, calmly marching the Argos downfield late to set up Swayze Waters’ 51-yard field goal for a wild 43-30 home victory. That loss eliminated Hamilton from post-season contention.
Austin said there were many reasons why he courted Collaros, not the least of which was being coached by Milanovich in Toronto.
“I have a great deal of respect for Scott, I think Scott is an outstanding coach,” Austin said. “I’m familiar with the system he runs and how diligent they are in their preparation.
“He (Collaros) comes from a background of a heavy dose of preparation, not just with Scott but throughout his career. That was a key attribute that we value very highly here.”
And there was also Collaros’ ability to lead Toronto to four key September road victories with Ray sidelined.
“I think it’s very important to try to determine the quality of the player especially in tough situations,” Austin said. “That was about as tough a situation I think as probably any quarterback faced last year with the starting guy going down and then going on the road.
“Being able to quarterback your football team to those victories proves he’s a winner and he’s proven it in tough situations.”
Collaros wore No. 17 in Toronto but will don No. 4 with Hamilton.
“I’m the kind of guy who’s going to pay the price during the week and in the off-season so that the results do come on the field,” Collaros said. “Do I want to be a starter? Do I think I can be a starter? Obviously.
“I thought that two years ago when I got to Toronto and Ricky Ray was there. That’s just my personality. I’m just anxious to get to practice and really just to get up here and learn from the staff.”