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July 29, 2019

Steinberg’s MMQB: A chance to reflect and appreciate

The Canadian Press

Much of what will be written about the Hamilton Tiger-Cats over the next few days will be about how to overcome Jeremiah Masoli’s season-ending injury. To kick off this week’s MMQB, though, I thought I’d take a bit of a different angle.

The fact this injury is such a devastating blow to the Ticats shows how far Masoli has come in his seven years in the CFL. And it gives fans in Hamilton plenty of reason to expect a return to form in 2020.

In a lot of ways, Masoli has taken the hard road for most of his career. I remember when Masoli made his way to Canada in 2012 after a quick stint with the San Francisco 49ers and some time in the United Football League. He came with a big name and some baggage off the field and I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Well, his first season in the CFL didn’t really go as planned, because he was injured for a good chunk of it.

Despite a trade to Hamilton ahead of the 2013 season, things still seemed to be progressing slowly for Masoli. He got into five games in his first three years with the Tiger-Cats and looked out of sorts with the CFL game. You could tell Masoli possessed talent and raw tools, but he wasn’t accurate and relied too much on his running ability.

But Masoli kept with it. After four seasons of learning, understudying, and getting his feet wet, Masoli got his first chance to start on a regular basis in 2016. While still second on the depth chart behind Zach Collaros, Masoli got a chance to start eight games that season and things started to feel a little different.

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Masoli no longer looked like an NCAA star struggling to learn a different brand of football. The list is long of players in that category, from Akili Smith to Timmy Chang and many more; Masoli was determined not to join that list. While he still forced some passes and made a few mistakes, Masoli looked like a capable CFL quarterback in 2016. His accuracy was way up and he was knocking on the door; all that was needed was an opportunity.

But that chance didn’t come right away for Masoli. The following season started dreadfully in Hamilton; the team went 0-8 out of the gates, with Collaros struggling in step with the rest of his teammates. It was midway through that season where everything changed for Masoli and the Ticats.

Head coach Kent Austin stepped down in August and handed the reins to June Jones. The first significant move Jones made in his new position was changing quarterbacks and that jolted the whole team. Hamilton ended up missing the playoffs in 2017, but Masoli was outstanding in ten straight starts and helped his team stay in it almost to the end.

The Ticats had seen enough to be sold. The following off-season, Hamilton signed Masoli to a lucrative contract and traded Collaros to Saskatchewan. Masoli was the guy and now had to prove his team right. After all those dues paid and work put in, it was finally Masoli’s time and he blew the doors off his opportunity.

In his first year as Hamilton’s full-time starter, Masoli was the East Division’s Most Outstanding Player as he put himself in the same conversation as established CFL elites like Bo Levi Mitchell and Mike Reilly. With the way Masoli started 2019 prior to this injury, I think it’s fair to say he’s established himself as a high-end starter in this league.

This is a big bump in the road, for Masoli and the Tiger-Cats. Many are high on Dane Evans and Marshall Ferguson argued on his behalf on an earlier edition of Berg vs. Ferg this season. Regardless, though, this is going to be a tough haul in Hamilton; they had Grey Cup expectations and Masoli was a sizeable reason why.

For Masoli, though, this is another thing he has to overcome, but everything suggests he’ll do just that. Throughout his career, Masoli has always done a great job of beating adversity and using it to make him better.

Masoli got himself in hot water in college, which is what caused his move from Oregon to Ole Miss. He made a couple self-admitted bad decisions and it probably set his pro career back before it even started. Since that time, though, all Masoli has done is be a model citizen in the locker room and in the community.

 

On the field, things haven’t been easy, either. Masoli was injured for most of his first professional season. He struggled when he saw limited action in his first three seasons. And there were many who had written him off early on.

So yes, this is a piece of really bad news for the player and the team. But look how far Masoli has come and how much adversity has been a part of that growth. I’m expecting Masoli to be back as an improved quarterback and teammate after his recovery in 2020. It’s what he does.

Quick-ish hits

The Calgary Stampeders and Edmonton Eskimos close out week eight of the season on Saturday night with round one of this year’s Battle of Alberta. Both teams are coming off wins in week seven, both teams are 4-2, and both teams are going to see a lot of one another over the next little while.


Buy Week 8 Tickets
» Thursday, 7:00 p.m. ET: Winnipeg at Toronto
» Thursday, 9:30 p.m. ET: Hamilton at Saskatchewan
» Friday, 7:00 p.m. ET: Ottawa at Montreal
» Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET: Edmonton at Calgary


The Esks and Stamps play one another three times in the next six weeks, culminating with their Labour Day home-and home series in early September. That’s a trio of games between two pretty good teams with heavy playoff implications. Seeing three of these matchups in the next month-and-a-half is going to be a treat.

Right there in that mix with Calgary and Edmonton is a hard-charging Riders team. You can make it two straight and three of four for Saskatchewan, which has them now at 3-3. Cody Fajardo has been a really nice story at quarterback, and William Powell seems to have done everything the Roughriders were looking for when the signed him to a big money deal in February.

But now we’re going to really see where the Riders are compared to the other heavy hitters. Sask’s three wins have come over BC (twice) and Toronto, who have a combined one win between them. Over the next six weeks, though, they’ve got Hamilton, Montreal (twice) and Winnipeg (twice). If they get through those solid opponents in impressive fashion, it’ll be safe to look at them as contenders.

Finally, this is a huge week for the Ottawa REDBLACKS. They’ve now lost four straight after a 2-0 start and are coming off a really tough loss to swallow Thursday at home to Calgary. Week 9 sees Ottawa visit red-hot Montreal in a really important game.

Not only can the REDBLACKS put Thursday’s frustrating finish behind them with a nice bounce back, they can also get that much closer to a guaranteed playoff spot. A win Friday would get Ottawa to 3-4 while dropping the Alouettes to 3-3, which is why that’s an important game to keep your eye on.