The Canadian Press
Austin Mack is like a lot of American football players who knew very little or nothing about the CFL prior to heading north on a wing and a prayer, looking for a shot at pro football redemption.
“Initially, when I first heard about the CFL and Montreal,” says the Alouettes’ first-year receiver, “I turned on a highlight tape. And I kid you not, I’m like ‘what are they doing? They’re running up to the line of scrimmage, the motions are crazy.’ I’m like ‘what is this?’ I had no idea what I was watching.”
“Obviously, now, it makes a lot more sense.”
Well, yes, that certainly does seem obvious after Mack’s first game two weeks ago. Quickly, dramatically, Austin Mack made his name known to CFL fans across the country.
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The 25-year-old graduate of the Ohio State Football program, an undrafted player who spent three mostly frustrating NFL seasons battling injuries as well as a winter wondering if he shouldn’t maybe just give up on his playing dreams completely, pulled in four catches in his Alouettes debut in a Week 1 game against the Ottawa REDBLACKS. Mack tallied 120 yards on those catches, including a 61-yarder, from Als’ quarterback Cody Fajardo.
The 6-foot-two, 205 pound receiver has been a quick study in Montreal, showing it with his play during that first game and with his fashion choice prior to it, actually, when he sported an Anthony Calvillo graphic T-shirt during warm-ups.
“Out of respect and tradition and wanting to just have a little fun, man,” says Mack of his choice of warm-up top. “I love graphic tees.”
Boy did that first game ever feel good, considering the football tribulations that the native of Fort Wayne, Indiana had been through.
After a stellar high school career and an accomplished collegiate one with the Buckeyes, Mack spent two frustrating years in the NFL, following a hopeful first.
“The last two years have been pretty tough for me,” says Mack, referring to his trudge through the football desert, hamstring injuries hobbling him along the way. “When you get kinda tagged as a soft tissue (injury) guy it’s hard. It’s a tough business.”
Mack played his rookie year with the New York Giants in 2020 and caught seven passes for 91 yards that year in limited play. A year later, he suffered a hamstring injury during training camp and was released by the Giants after a short stint on injured reserve. Signing with Tennessee in November of that season, Mack spent just a week on the Titans’ practice roster before again being released. He landed a contract with San Francisco for the 2022 season, but was placed on the 49ers’ injured reserve list last August, and was released just five days after that.
That’s a lot of football hope dashed by football heartache to endure for one man. “You could just imagine, mentally, where you could be at,” says Mack. “That’s really what I’d say is the hardest part. Having that mental fight, day in and day out.”
This past off-season, Mack says, he seriously considered turning the page on football and moving on. He and his wife, Joye, were expecting their first child (Alayah was born in March) and Mack was thinking he should find something stable. Joye, he says, encouraged him to keep trying though. “We really push each other,” says Mack. “I trust her input.”
And when the Alouettes offered Mack a contract prior to training camp, Joye was there again, insisting he needn’t worry about the home front if he were to journey to Montreal for a shot.
“She really gave me reassurance and said ‘we’ll be fine, go after it.’”
Which Mack has, and which he intends to do week in and week out. “Whatever happens, just no regrets,” he states. “That’s the biggest thing. I didn’t wanna hang up the cleats with regrets of what could have been.”
“Playing the game of football again, and really getting to play after battling injuries the last few years, man, I’m just thankful. I just wanna stay healthy and have a great, great year.”
And the game that appeared, just weeks ago, to be such an odd duck to him?
“It’s so fun,” he says enthusiastically. “It’s super fast, super intense.”
Mack was named the fans’ choice as Alouettes player of the game for his Week 1 performance and he’s grateful. But not content. He understands how this goes.
“Even though I had a good Week 1 people forget real quick, right?” he says, sounding like a man who knows it too well from experience.
“I’m hungry,” he adds. “I’m determined. And I don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.”
MACK BLOWN AWAY BY ANTHONY CALVILLO’S ACCOMPLISHMENTS
If Austin Mack has been a quick study on how to play the Canadian game, he has also been a keen student of Alouettes’ history since arriving in Montreal just a few weeks ago.
“I’m very new but I’m big on knowing tradition and the guys who helped build it,” Mack says. “I just thought it’d be pretty cool to come out for the home opener with a nice little AC graphic tee.”
But why the Als’ Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach, specifically?
“79,816 yards,” says Mack, off the top of his head, getting the number bang on. “Just THE guy. Three Grey Cups.”
One day at practice, Mack Says, Montreal Receivers Coach and Pass Game Coordinator Mike Lionello told him all about Calvillo’s accomplishments, stunning Mack with the details. “The Tom Brady of the CFL,” he says.
“He’s a great dude,” Mack says of Calvillo. “You wouldn’t even think he did the things that he did. He’s super humble. And he’s a great guy to be around and learn from. I have a lot of respect for him.”
Mack has been sponging up even more Montreal Alouettes’ history and says that will be evident at the next home game, July 1st, when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers pay a visit.
“I might have one (a graphic tee) for the next home game so just stay tuned,” he teases. “I don’t wanna spoil it but I’ve definitely got a few guys in mind.”