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Nov 5, 2012 8:50pm
Medium lingzi 1454 posts

HAMILTON, Ont. Ray Rice Elite Jersey . —At just 28 years
of age, Andy Fantuz suddenly finds himself a CFL elder statesman. On Tuesday,
the Hamilton Tiger-Cats introduced a tanned Fantuz, who spent last week on
vacation in Africa, after agreeing to terms with the free-agent slotback Friday.
Fantuz will call Ivor Wynne Stadium home for the next four seasons after
spending the first six years of his career with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Hamilton dug deep to secure Fantuz as the native of Chatham, Ont., will
reportedly earn $190,000 annually. And while the Ticats are expecting a definite
bang for their buck from Fantuz, the CFLs 2010 top Canadian will open the season
as their second-oldest receiver behind 32-year-old slotback Dave Stala. Fantuz
sees adopting a dual role in Hamilton of not only becoming quarterback Henry
Burriss go-to receiver but also serving as a mentor to talented sophomores Chris
Williams, Aaron Kelly and Bakari Grant. “The great, young receivers on this team
I can help them out and teach them some of the things Ive acquired and the
knowledge Ive acquired and some of the tips on the field,” Fantuz said. “I want
to work with the whole group, really bring the team together and try to make it
a cohesive unit and become a family and try to get us working as a team.” The
six-foot-four, 220-pound Fantuz not only gives Hamilton another set of reliable
hands but also enhances its inside presence, where he can create mismatches with
linebackers and come up with the tough catch. Those are qualities new Hamilton
coach George Cortez says make a player like Fantuz “a quarterbacks best friend.”
“Andy is driven, wants to be successful and wants the ball thrown to him, which
is really important for a receiver,” Cortez said. “Were looking for big things
from the position. “Hes a more physical receiver than most people give him
credit for.” Fantuz had 289 receptions for 4,311 yards and 23 touchdowns with
Saskatchewan. He was named the CFLs top Canadian in 2010 after posting 87
catches for 1,380 yards and six TDs. Fantuz missed the first half of last season
while attending the Chicago Bears camp before being released. But he only played
in four games with Saskatchewan due to an ankle injury. Fantuz will also be
preaching the value of patience with his new teammates, that wins are more
important than statistics and teams succeed collectively, not with individuals.
Fantuz certainly knows what it takes to get to the Grey Cup, playing in three
CFL title games with the Riders and winning in 07 when he was named the top
Canadian in the Riders win over Winnipeg. Hamilton hasnt played in the Grey Cup
since winning it in 99. “I think a lot of it has to do with how teammates work
together and how they respect each other,” Fantuz said. “Its teammates wanting
to play for each other, wanting to play for the coach and fans. “You must have
that family-type feel to the locker-room and I feel thats a major part of it . .
. If we can all work with each other, for each other and realize its about the
victory and not about ourselves I think we can really excel and shine on the
field.” Saskatchewan and Hamilton both pursued Fantuz hard, with the former
Western Ontario star saying the opportunity to play close to home and reuniting
with Cortez factored into his decision. Cortez served as Saskatchewan offensive
co-ordinator during Fantuzs rookie season. “Having something that was stable and
great for me was very tough to leave,” Fantuz said. “But Ive always wanted to
come back home and get a chance to play in southwestern Ontario and when the
opportunity arose, all the pieces fell into place. “It definitely wasnt about
the money. Its about winning championships, the football aspect, coach (George)
Cortez, the fans in the city. It seems like a good fit for me . . . but Im going
to miss it out there.” Ironically, Fantuz and the Ticats kick off the 2012
season hosting Saskatchewan on June 29. Fantuz will make his return to Regina on
July 28 and expects a mixed reaction. “Rider fans have always been at my side, I
feel the majority of the reaction (to Hamilton signing) has been positive, they
wished me the best and understand my decision and I have to thank them for
that,” Fantuz said. “Of course, theres going to be some booing when youre
playing against their team but Im not going to take it personally. “I feel like
theyre knowledgeable, they understand the game, they understand what a player
has to do personally for himself and family. Im not too concerned with dealing
with that stuff, I dont think its going to become an issue.” Landing Fantuz was
one move in GM Bob OBillovichs whirlwind makeover of Hamiltons roster this
off-season. Since the Ticats 19-3 loss to Winnipeg in the East Division final,
theyve fired a head coach (Marcel Bellefeuille), hired a replacement (Cortez),
lost defensive end Greg Hicks (NFL), released running back Avon Cobourne, traded
quarterback Kevin Glenn and offensive lineman Mark DeWit to Calgary for Burris,
released offensive lineman Simeon Rottier and defensive end Luc Mullinder and
either dipped into free agency or traded for the likes of tailback Martell
Malett, defensive end Greg Peach, offensive lineman Tim ONeill and linebacker
Kevin Eiben. “I think were on the threshold now of being the kind of team you
need to win the Grey Cup,” OBillovich said. “You need good players to win the
Grey Cup. “Coaches are very important but theres no coach thats going to win if
he doesnt have good players. Were working hard to provide coach Cortez and his
staff with as many good players as we can and when they get on the field its up
to them to do what they need to do.” And in the mind of Cortez, who will also
serve as Hamiltons offensive co-ordinator this season, theres no such thing as
too many weapons on offence. “Its a bigger problem not to have enough,” he said.
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