October 23, 2009

The life and times of a CFL kicker

By Lowell Ullrich
The Province

Paul McCallum returns to face his former Saskatchewan teammates this Saturday

You’re a kicker, which right away gives you special status within the culture of every CFL club.

Your job is to make heroic field goals and pinpoint punts. It is not advised you tackle a kick returner approaching at warp speed, even if you are the only player who can prevent a touchdown. Easier to suggest, tougher to do, however.

Paul McCallum of the Lions put himself in the way of a Hamilton Tiger-Cats kick returner this season and almost had his career derailed on the spot.

Punter Jamie Boreham of the Saskatchewan Roughriders did the same thing when his team met Ryan Grice-Mullen of the Lions three weeks ago and may face the same prospect, which in a cruel sense may benefit McCallum.

Boreham, the Vancouver College product who found a home with the Riders three years ago after initially being punted by the Lions, will be on the sideline when the teams meet Saturday because of a serious injury suffered Oct. 2 at BC Place.

Boreham suffered undiagnosed neck damage when he launched himself at Grice-Mullen, sending the Lions returner flying but leaving the Riders extremely skittish about Boreham’s prospects for a return this year. Whispers around the league persist he may never come back, though they are not uttered by the Burnaby native.

McCallum, who returns to face his former Saskatchewan teammates, knows the dangers of being the proverbial penny on a railroad track, too. He suffered wrist and knee injuries when he was introduced to Hamilton returner Marquay McDaniel.

There’s a fine line between making a play and risking injury, McCallum said, and the decision is not made easily in the relative blink of an eye.

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“It’s OK to slow [a returner] down, but it’s the equivalent of a quarterback trying to lay someone out. If you go down, it’s not like you’ve got a backup,” he said.

“If I’m a special-teams coach, I’m telling you to be a safety; hang back. It’s stupid.”

Boreham knows he’ll have to change.

“I’m not allowed to [attempt another tackle]. I’ll be more cautious,” he said before being shooed away by Riders handlers Thursday.

With a roster premium on non-import kickers there’s a chance McCallum could eventually end up perfecting his tackling back with the Riders next season if Boreham is unable to make a recovery.

McCallum gets his third road start for Sean Whyte Saturday, but the 39-year-old has admitted he doesn’t like his long-term chances of remaining with the Lions.

The Saskatchewan kicking job Saturday falls to SFU product Luca Congi, who appreciates Boreham’s kamikaze approach, but thinks he can still be effective in another manner.

“[Boreham’s] a big hitter. I’d still try to make a tackle, but in a more conservative way,” Congi said. “You can make a play, but at the end of the day the team needs you to kick and that’s more important.”

Kick and duck? Best make that decision before facing an onrushing train.