CALGARY — The Calgary Stampeders opened training camp with an Australian painter trying out at kicker.
Scott Crough has a powerful leg from years of playing Australian rules football. He’s trying to learn the Canadian game on the fly while shaking off heavy jet lag from his arrival in the country last week.
“I’m trying to get my head around it more and more every day,” Crough said Sunday. “It’s good to get some live snaps today and get a feel for it.
“I didn’t kick so well. I think I’ve got the bad ones out now, so it’s all good. I’m still a little bit raw, obviously and need to refine everything from the snap to the kick.”
Crough (pronounced Crow) is a fun subplot to the more traditional discussion points of Calgary’s training camp. The housepainter from Melbourne is competing with Rob Maver for the job of punter.
How Drew Tate will assert himself during a full season at starting quarterback and how the glut of linebackers will be resolved were some other trending topics at McMahon Stadium on the first day of camp.
The absence of quarterback Henry Burris and running back Joffrey Reynolds was glaring because they’ve been such fixtures at training camp over the years. Burris was traded to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in January after seven seasons as starting QB while eight-year veteran Reynolds was released outright.
But the Stampeder lineup otherwise looks similar to the one that finished 11-7 and lost in the West Division semifinal to the Edmonton Eskimos last season
Slotback Nik Lewis’s 30th birthday Sunday coincided with the start of his ninth training camp in Calgary. He acknowledged not having Reynolds around felt strange, but pointed out there are still several familiar faces on offence, including receivers Ken-Yon Rambo and running back Jon Cornish.
“It does feel a little different, but it’s a fresh start,” Lewis said. “The defence is still out there flying around, the fact that Drew played last year, you look around the huddle and everybody is still the same pretty much.
“I don’t think we have too many rookies on offence. Everybody has been here for a couple of years.”
Calgary hosts Edmonton on June 15 and plays Saskatchewan on June 20 in pre-season games before opening at home July 1 against the Montreal Alouettes.
Stampeder head coach and general manager John Hufnagel acquired veteran Kevin Glenn in the Hamilton trade as backup and insurance behind Tate. He also brought a multitude of linebackers for insurance at that position, with six trying out in the middle and another six on the weakside.
“Our linebackers last year . . . we were decimated at the position because of injuries so I tried to get as much competition at that position as possible,” Hufnagel explained. “We have to find out who not only has ability, but who has durability.”
Crough, 31, played the Australian version of football at a senior regional level. His brother Justin played at the highest level in the AFL with Hawthorn. Crough, Rob Maver of Guelph, Ont., and Montreal’s Rene Paredes are the three kickers in Calgary’s camp. Long-time Stampeder punter Burke Dales signed with Edmonton in the off-season.
Maver, making a bid for both kicking and punting duties, was injured in the first game of last season and didn’t play again. Calgary quickly signed Paredes, who made a seamless transition from university football to the professional ranks by kicking a 50-yard field-goal in his first game.
“It’s a three-way competition right now,” special teams coach Mark Killam said. “Scott is competing with Rob for the punting job, but all three of our kickers are competing every day. They know what the situation is, they know what we’re looking for and I think it’s going to be one of those exciting battles in camp.”
Crough isn’t the only punter from Down Under at a CFL training camp. Josh Bartel is on Hamilton’s training-camp roster.
The two men know each other well. Crough says they were roommates in the United States last summer while waiting for the NFL lockout to end and for opportunities to try out in that league.
“We talk quite a bit because we’re doing the same things on the same days basically,” Crough said. “He’s a really good friend and I hope he does well and makes the team.”
When the Calgary Stampeders found out Crough was on the continent last summer, they put him through a workout, added him to their negotiation list and then signed him in February. Australians are classified as non-imports, which also made Crough attractive to Calgary.
“It’s a bit of a loophole, I guess, for us to be considered Canadian, but I’m happy to run with it,” Crough said.
Accurate field and goalkicking is crucial in Australian football, which are transferable skills to punting in the CFL. Hufnagel described the leg power of the six-foot-four, 220-pound Crough as unbelievable.
“He’s a true two-step power punter,” Killam said. “He can hit the ball on the move. He’s used to fielding a football and getting a kick off in a short amount of time.”
Crough will have to get accustomed to taking the snap and getting a kick away against the rush. If he can do that and earn a job, Crough plans to bring his new wife Denae to Canada. They were married March 31.
“It’s good to be doing this for a job,” he said. “I missed my chance back home at the top level. In some ways I’ve got another chance at playing at a top-level sport.
“To me, it’s a great opportunity. I hope I don’t let the Stamps down. They’ve shown a lot of faith in me to get me over here.”