For Fan­tuz: Job 1 is play again; Job 2 player de­velop­ment

Ti­cat re­ceiver work­ing to re­turn from ACL tear, while of­fer­ing added-value of con­tin­u­ing his men­tor­ing

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - STEVE MIL­TON

The num­ber 1 pri­or­ity, by f ar, is Andy Fan­tuz re­cov­er­ing from his knee surgery strongly enough to play this year.

That was made very clear by both the Hamil­ton Tiger-Cats’ head coach Kent Austin and by the elite re­ceiver him­self at Fri­day’s news con­fer­ence where they dis­cussed Fan­tuz’s new off-field po­si­tion as a co-or­di­na­tor of player de­velop­ment.

“What I’ve been told is my re­hab is my No. 1 pri­or­ity,” Fan­tuz said. “What­ever I’m do­ing for my re­hab trumps ev­ery­thing else.”

Fan­tuz was en­joy­ing a spec­tac­u­lar 2016 cam­paign when he tore his ACL, while cut­ting on a pass pat­tern dur­ing a loss to Ed­mon­ton on Oct. 28.

With 101 re­cep­tions through 17 games he had shat­tered his own per­sonal high (87 set in 2010), and had reached the 1,000-yard mark (1,059) for just the sec­ond time in his 11-year ca­reer. He was the first Ti­cat re­ceiver to record 100 or more re­cep­tions, break­ing the club mark of 98 co-held by Dar­ren Flu­tie.

Fan­tuz, who be­came a free agent in Fe­bru­ary, un­der­went re­con­struc­tive surgery i n Novem­ber and the “win­dow” for re­cov­ery from ACL surgery is gen­er­ally from eight months to a year.

So late Au­gust would likely be the ear­li­est he could re­turn to play­ing, but Fan­tuz re­fused to spec­u­late on a time line.

When he’s cleared med­i­cally to play, he’ll sign a player’s con­tract with Hamil­ton, Fan­tuz said.

He’s been keep­ing the rest of his body fit.

He says he “feels re­ally good,” and is now back run­ning.

He’s even mak­ing light, pre­med­i­tated cuts.

Fan­tuz said that dur­ing train­ing camp, which opens next week­end, and in the reg­u­lar sea­son un­til he’s play­ing, he’ll be “help­ing all the play­ers, the young guys, and es­pe­cially the re­ceivers, learn the of­fence, and with route-run­ning. What­ever Stef (of­fen­sive co-or­di­na­tor Ste­fan Ptaszek) needs.

“It’s nice to be do­ing that kind of lead­er­ship role. It’s sim­i­lar to what I’ve been do­ing in the past. But in a more of­fi­cial way, to add some value-added to the club.”

Austin took a shot at crit­ics who’ve sug­gested the Fan­tuz hir­ing is a way of keep­ing him on the pay­roll — with­out sign­ing him as a free agent — say­ing that’s why he said he’d “vet­ted” Fan­tuz’s new role with the CFL of­fice.

“I’m re­fer­ring to the id­iocy of some of the stuff that has been re­ported that this is a con­tra­ven­tion of some­thing,” he said. “It’s ridicu­lous.”

He said Fan­tuz, who knows the team’s com­pli­cated of­fen­sive struc­ture “bet­ter than just about any­one,” would help play­ers de­velop phys­i­cally and men­tally, work with them on route-run­ning, would cri­tique play­ers, and “help cre­ate short­cuts for play­ers in their un­der­stand­ing, to bring them up to speed more quickly.”

Austin said that while Fan­tuz’s spe­cific tasks might change from day to day, those tasks, “will be highly-de­fined. We wanted to make sure it was de­fined prop­erly, so ev­ery­body un­der­stood, not just Andy and the coaches, but the play­ers too, on what the role will be and why. And to make sure there will be a smooth tran­si­tion.”

The Tiger-Cats will have at least 16 re­ceivers in camp, and the coach­ing staff won’t have time to work with ev­ery one of them on ev­ery de­tail that they have to ab­sorb in a highly-com­pressed train­ing camp. That’s where Fan­tuz will step in.

“He’s a unique player for us,” Austin said. “Ob­vi­ously I wouldn’t do this with just about any­one else.

“Some of th­ese things Andy has been do­ing nat­u­rally. Cer­tainly not at the level that we’re ask­ing him to do now, but th­ese are nat­u­ral roles, be­cause he’s a leader on the team.

“When he comes back and he’s ready to play, and we get him un­der con­tract, then his fo­cus will be on play­ing, but he’s al­ways go­ing to help the oth­ers.”

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