Hamilton Ticats training camp primer: 3 burning questions

1999 was a long time ago. It’s too long for fans of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats who have been patiently, sometimes impatiently, waiting for the team to go all the way.

But as training camp kicks off Sunday at McMaster University, the upcoming Canadian Football League season will provide another opportunity for the Ticats to end the league’s longest active championship drought.

Players on the ’99 Grey Cup-winning Tiger-Cats have, over the years, retold the story of what became a pivotal moment during the first day of training camp.

Then head coach Ron Lancaster, already a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame from his days as a player with Saskatchewan and Ottawa, delivered a hall-of-fame-worthy message to his team that set them on a path to championship glory.

Months after Hamilton lost to Calgary in the 1998 Grey Cup, Lancaster began training camp the following year by showing his players highlights (more accurately lowlights) of that loss against the Stampeders.

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As the story goes, after the players were forced to re-live the disappointment of that loss, Lancaster turned on the lights in the meeting room and said “okay, practice at 9 a.m. tomorrow”.

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The players — which included the likes of quarterback Danny McManus, defensive end Joe Montford, and kicker Paul Osbaldiston — have said it was at that moment when they knew they’d win the Grey Cup that season. Hamilton ended up beating the Stamps in their championship rematch that November.

Now 25 years later, the Ticats are trying to get back to the summit of the CFL. And as they gather at McMaster University to begin training camp, their fans are hoping 2024 may finally be their year.

But before Hamilton makes room for a 16th championship banner at Tim Hortons Field, there are a handful of burning questions that will need to be answered.

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1-Will the new-look front office push all the right buttons? Hamilton’s football operations hierarchy was reshuffled last December when Orlondo Steinauer graduated from head coach and vice president of football operations to become the team’s president of football ops. Ed Hervey was installed as Hamilton’s new general manager and Scott Milanovich took over the head coaching job. After back-to-back 8-10 seasons, Hamilton’s new three-headed, front office monster will attempt to put a winning product on the field.

2-Can QB Bo Levi Mitchell and the rest of the team stay healthy in 2024? Any team that has aspirations of winning it all must have their starting pivot remain healthy for the bulk of the regular season and especially the playoffs. A number of different ailments have kept Hamilton’s QB1 on the injured list in three of the last four seasons, including last year in which he played only six games. Mitchell showed up to rookie camp in a walking boot after reporting some swelling in his lower right leg. Mitchell and several other Ticats who spent time on the trainer’s table instead of the field last year will need to stay upright this season.

3-Is the revamped defence going to be a force or a farce? Gone are the likes of linebackers Simoni Lawrence, Jameer Thurman and Chris Edwards, defensive linemen Ted Laurent and Dylan Wynn, and safety Tunde Adeleke. Hamilton’s new faces on D include defensive back Jamal Peters and defensive linemen Brandon Barlow and Dewayne Hendrix who all arrived in free agency from Toronto. Canadian linebacker Jordan Williams abruptly announced his retirement before camp but the defensive corps still includes standout safety Stavros Katsantonis, versatile defensive back Richard Leonard and defensive lineman Casey Sayles.

The Tiger-Cats will host the Ottawa Redblacks in their first of two preseason games on May 25 before they take on the Argonauts on May 31 at the University of Guelph.

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Hamilton kicks off the regular season in Calgary on June 7.

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