TORONTO — In professional football kickers must have a certain confidence to go in front of large crowds and kick field goals when all eyes are on them.
But when a nagging injury is preventing them from performing their best, confidence can wane.
At the start of the 2012 Canadian Football League season it was clear longtime Toronto Argonauts kicker Noel Prefontaine was not his usual self. Following a Week 3 loss to rival Hamilton Tiger-Cats the kicker announced he would undergo potentially career-ending hip surgery to fix a nagging injury that had been affecting his performance.
However, the 38-year-old was determined to not let his career finish on a negative note.
“I knew one thing was for certain. That I was going to bust my tail to get back, to do everything I possibly could physically to try to play as quickly as I could because I knew I could control that,” Prefontaine told sportsnet.ca.
“To me that’s a mental thing, a character thing and I’m so big on focusing on things that you can control. Getting back and getting healthy and working hard, I knew that was going to happen.”
Despite a confidence in his work ethic, the Californian, who has called Canada home since the 1990s, didn’t imagine his return to action would have been so fast, as he returned to the Argos lineup in the second half of the season.
“To say that I was going to get back this quickly, to say that I was going to get the opportunity to be here at Grey Cup week and having the opportunity to play in this game, this historic game, no. You dream about that stuff but that wasn’t where my focus was, my focus was my rehab.”
When Prefontaine went down the Argos brought in 25-year-old American Swayze Waters, who ended up hitting 74 per cent of his field goal attempts this season.
“When the injury happened I felt that we needed someone in here and the organization did a good job in finding someone like Swayze and he’s been great, he’s a fantastic kicker,” Prefontaine said.
The Argos are in an uncommon position in the CFL right now with two kickers on the roster, but Prefontaine feels it’s a benefit to the team.
“If there comes a case where Swayze goes down, something tragic happens to him I can step in and kick field goals and vice versa. It’s a good situation that we’re in, in terms of a depth perspective. Sharing the workload has been fantastic. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Prefontaine added that when it comes to kicking field goals, although ready if push comes to shove, he’s not 100 per cent and it’s better if he just focuses on his punting duties.
“In terms of sharing the workload, it’s really all I can do right now. I don’t think I’m in good enough physical shape or feel good enough to do both right now. I’ve never gone to management and said ‘hey, I can do both.’”
On Sunday during the 100th Grey Cup, just as the Stampeders will have to be wary of the CFL’s 2012 Most Outstanding Player Chad Owens returning kicks and punts for Toronto, Prefontaine and the Argos will have their focus on Stamps return man Larry Taylor.
In Toronto’s 39-36 Week 2 win over the Stampeders, Taylor had several big punt returns and took a missed field goal back 125 yards for a touchdown.
“Unfortunately for me Larry has done that to me prior to that game so I’m fully aware of what he’s capable of doing and we are as a special teams unit and we respect him.
“We’re going to try and make sure he doesn’t become an integral part of what they’re trying to do. When you’re going against good returners, you have to have that much more perfection. The punters in this game have to be extremely disciplined.”