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Wednesday, May 9, 2018

MASOLI READY TO LEAD TICATS

The workouts remain essentially the same, but Jeremiah Masoli's mindset this off-season has been much different.

For the first time in his pro career, Masoli prepared for a season knowing he was a starter. The 29-year-old San Francisco native will be Hamilton's No. 1 quarterback after leading the Tiger-Cats to a 6-4 record to end the '17 CFL campaign.

"It's been a little different, for sure, just mentality-wise,'' Masoli said during a conference call Tuesday. "I think knowing the success of the offence kind of has a lot to do with how I do and how I perform, that responsibility is kind of like in the back of your mind as the off-season goes.

"You just want to make sure you're as ready as can be when camp starts.''

June Jones made Masoli the starter ahead of incumbent Zach Collaros upon replacing Kent Austin as head coach following Hamilton's 0-8 start. Masoli certainly responded, completing 249-of-391 passes (63.7 per cent) for a career-best 3,177 yards with 15 TDs and just five interceptions.

The five-foot-10, 228-pound Masoli also ran for 446 yards and four TDs on 70 carries (6.4-yard average). After the season, Hamilton signed Jones to a three-year deal then got Masoli's signature on a two-year extension after dealing Collaros to Saskatchewan.

"When I took over the head job, as I said at that time the guys that get fired are the head coach and quarterback,'' Jones said. "I have a lot of good feelings for Zach ... it's just that, hey, timing is everything.

"Jeremiah was on cue when he got his chance. He never had one game where I even thought about putting Zach in, he just kept getting better and better. That's how it is sometimes in life. You're in the right place at the right time and Jeremiah was.''

Still, Hamilton (6-12) missed the CFL playoffs last year for the first time in five years and just the second since 2009. Jones expects Masoli's experience last season will benefit the Ticats in 2018.

"He had a great finish under an adverse situation, which says a lot about him,'' Jones said. "I think some of the changes we're making in what we're going to do, he's just going to get better and better.

"He has all you need to be a very good player at any level. He's accurate with the football, he's competitive, he can run, he's a leader, he's all those things.''

Ultimately, the Ticats couldn't recover from their dismal start last season. Jones said once the '18 campaign begins, it's important Hamilton pick up where it left off last year.

"I think the ability to start where we left off is key,'' he said. "It's going to be a year where the guy that wants it the most is going to get it and I think we've got a group of guys who are hungry.''

Masoli, entering his seventh CFL season and sixth in Hamilton, agrees.

"I'd say (last year's finish) made us a little hungrier,'' he said. "We kind of got a taste of some of the success we have the potential of having.

"We kind of see the sky is the limit for us and all we've got to do is put the work in and it will pay off.''

The return of Jones and Masoli has helped fuel optimism this season in Hamilton, but with that comes the pressure to perform. However Jones said such is life for a head coach and quarterback.

"There's always pressure and expectation,'' he said. "It just so happens that we're lucky to be in a position to have that.

"I never really feel pressure, just like I don't think Jeremiah ever does in a game. The pressure to win is always on a head coach and quarterback. It comes with the job.''

But Masoli said playing for the 65-year-old Jones - who has been involved in football as a player and coach for over four decades - does offer some lighter moments.

"It can get funny at times,'' he said. "Coach June is full of stories, for sure, just talking about plays and the origins of certain plays ... and great players he's had in the past.

``It's a joy, man. A lot of us in the room are just soaking up all the knowledge these guys (Ticats coaches) have.''

(Canadian Press/Dan Ralph)

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