TORONTO — For Terrence Toliver, determining a football future was a little bit like opening and closing a door.
Today Toliver is a Ticat. Door closed.
“I said that in my interview when I signed,” said the 6-foot-5, 203-pound LSU grad. “The door is closed. I believe I’m a Ticat now.”
Toliver re-signed with the Ticats on Feb. 13, keeping him off the open market and on this side of the border. But while the future is now obvious for the 28-year-old pass-catcher, the same could not have been said five and a half months ago.
Following a season-ending loss in the Eastern Semi-Final and two dominant seasons wearing black and gold, Toliver said the door to the NFL absolutely needed to be opened and investigated.
“It’s just something I always wanted to do. I didn’t get my opportunity the first time I was there to play. I was practice squad. But I felt like if I just came up here and showed what I could do, I could go back and at least try to get back in there.”
Toliver was a star in college. He led one of the nation’s biggest football programs, the LSU Tigers, in receiving yards in 2010. The following season he was the offensive MVP of the Cotton Bowl.
After four seasons of bouncing around NFL practice rosters and even the United Football League, Toliver finally got to play again in 2015 when he signed with the Ticats. In two short CFL seasons, he needed only 26 games to become an upper-echelon receiver and a favourite target of starting quarterback Zach Collaros.
Terrence Toliver suits up in black and gold during Mark’s CFL Week in Regina (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)
This off-season it came time to explore NFL options for what would probably be the last time — but something left Toliver on the fence.
Leaving the CFL, he concedes, would have been difficult.
“It was kind of a thing where I was in between if I wanted to go back or not,” said Toliver. “I really didn’t like the politics [in the NFL] but at the end of the day I’m here now.”
Politics. A whole other topic for Toliver. You’ll hear it from most all Canadian Football League receivers venturing south.
Why don’t more CFL receivers make it south of the border when, in all likelihood, they’re talented enough to be on an NFL field?
“That’s the conversation I love to have with guys, when I talk politics in the NFL,” said Toliver.
Historically, American receivers developed in the Canadian Football League just haven’t been given the chance. And if they do make an NFL roster, seldom do they play.
Dontrelle Inman is one exception, while Eric Rogers and Derel Walker are two that might also have a chance to crash that barrier. For now, though, the odds are stacked.
Lions receiver Bryan Burnham says he worked out for 10 NFL teams this off-season before returning to BC.
“I took my rounds down south and some things ended up not working out and, kind of, I don’t want to say I got screwed but it’s a crazy business down there,” said the league’s fourth-leading receiver in 2016. “I ended up resuming negotiations with BC and got that done pretty fast.”
Jeff Fuller returned to the league last October with the Riders after spending most of 2016 down south. Now with the Argos, he says he’s happy to be back in the CFL, a place he’s built up a resume and a foundation.
“It’s cool to come back and show up to work and know you’re a priority as opposed to showing up to work knowing it might be your last day there,” said Fuller. “At this age, I think that’s a better situation as opposed to not having any type of security.”
Jeff Fuller returned to the CFL last fall before joining the Argos in free agency (Johany Jutras/Argonauts.ca)
In the end, for receivers venturing south, it’s a numbers game. Salaries, draft positioning and pedigree often get in the way. And in the NFL, receiver spots are not aplenty. Many times only two wideouts are on the field at a time.
“Just look at it like Carson Wentz,” said Toliver, alluding to a rookie quarterback and high first round pick last year in Philadelphia. “The backup quarterback was Chase Daniels. They moved [Wentz] into the starting role because they drafted him No. 2 overall.”
In other words, talent doesn’t always win out.
“They’re investing that much money in you, they’re going to do everything they can to make sure that you live up to that money,” said Burnham. “Being a 26-year-old coming from Canada, it’s kind of hard to get your foot in the door.”
Like many talented pass-catchers this side of the border, Toliver believes he could be a star in the NFL if afforded the opportunity.
The Chargers might never have played Inman without a slew of injuries first. But when he got on the field, the former Argonaut recorded 810 receiving yards.
Toliver says that, when push came to shove, he had little interest in sitting on the sideline for a chance that may never come.
“I told my wife, because I played with Brandon Marshall, I said ‘if you threw me the ball 10 times, I’d catch it 10 out of 10 times. And that’s what I want to prove here in the CFL,” said Toliver. “I didn’t want my talent to go to waste just staying down there trying to make it when I can come up here and do what I’m doing.
“That’s why I didn’t want to go back to the NFL too – because I’d have to play the politics role when I know I can play. I’m not getting any younger.”
“I just like being where I’m at. It’s comfortable here, I love the coach, I love the players . . . I was excited to come back.”
Ticats receiver Terrence Toliver
For Toliver, in the end, the decision to return to the Ticats was an obvious one (David Chidley, CFL.ca)
In Hamilton, Toliver will look to build on a memorable sophomore season — even if it didn’t end with a Grey Cup. Last season he recorded 1,036 yards and nine touchdowns over 13 games, averaging 79.7 yards per game.
With a leadership role and his team on the brink of a championship, this is where he wants to be.
“I just like being where I’m at,” said Toliver. “It’s comfortable here, I love the coach, I love the players. Being here, I know I have a great quarterback and great receiver group. I was excited to come back.”
In 2017, Toliver will look to lead a receiving corps also featuring Luke Tasker, Brian Tyms and Kevin Elliott, among others.
The Ticats struggled through injuries and lost in the Eastern Semi-Final last season but, these days, are always considered a front-runner in the fight for the East.
For their leading receiver, when it came time to return north, there was no other destination in mind.
“I didn’t want to go anywhere else,” he said. “I’m excited to win a Grey Cup.
“We expect to win a Grey Cup, we expect to be great.”