SPORTS

Veteran Swayze Waters anchors all facets of the Toronto Argonauts kicking game

06/19/2015 10:00 EDT | Updated 06/19/2016 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - They open the season with a new starting quarterback and many questions on defence, but the Toronto Argonauts have no concerns regarding their kicking game.

That's because all three jobs — field goals, punts and kickoffs — are handled by veteran Swayze Waters, the CFL's top special-teams performer last season. Waters captured the honour after leading the league in scoring (192 points), field goals made (47), punting (47.7 yards per attempt) and kickoffs (65.2 yards).

"I don't know that I've completely forgotten (the 2014 season) but I'm not living in it anymore," Waters said. "I think having a good season like that gives you confidence and has definitely helped with mine going into this year.

"I know I can put together a complete season in all aspects of the game . . . but at the same time I'm not coming into the season over-confident or arrogant."

With incumbent Ricky Ray (shoulder) on the six-game injured list, Trevor Harris will start at quarterback June 27 when Toronto faces the Edmonton Eskimos in Fort McMurray, Alta. A new-look defence will also sport a different defensive co-ordinator in Casey Creehan, who replaced the departed Tim Burke.

The six-foot, 180-pound Waters was a model of consistency in 2014, hitting 47-of-52 field goals (90.4 per cent) with a league-best 53-yard boot. But the 28-year-old native of Jackson, Miss., says having a short memory is crucial for a kicker.

"It's very important when you're having a bad game or even a good game, really," he said. "It's kind of like golf, you can succeed every play so it's up to you.

"The mental game is definitely a big part of it. I just try to go out, whether I made a 50-yard try or missed a 35-yard attempt, and feel it's a new kick."

Waters is entering his fourth season with Toronto. He joined the club early in the 2012 campaign when incumbent Noel Prefontaine required hip surgery.

But Waters remained Toronto's kicker for its 35-22 Grey Cup win over Calgary at Rogers Centre as Prefontaine handled punting duties upon his return.

Waters has made 91-of-120 career field goals (80.8 per cent) Toronto while sporting a solid 46.7-yard punting average. But Waters said he's had to work hard adjusting his game to the nuances of Canadian football.

"The uprights being on the goal-line and hashes being way far out were things I wasn't used to and before I was in Canada I hadn't really angle-kicked like that in a long time," he said. "Same with punts, you just can't hit a high ball right down the middle of the field and get a fair catch.

"You've got to hit it long and directional and have to have good hang time but not too good or you're going to get your guys a no-yards penalty. Over the last couple of years I've been tweaking my style to fit this game up here."

And Waters continues to do so after this off-season when CFL governors approved convert attempts being moved back 20 yards to the 32-yard line and prohibiting the five interior linemen on the punt team leaving the of scrimmage before the ball is kicked.

Connecting from 32 yards out isn't an issue for Waters, especially when he's playing indoors at Rogers Centre. But converts won't necessarily be a chip shot playing in windy, cold conditions outdoors.

"A 32-yard field goal doesn't really sound like a big deal and it's not a real long kick," Waters said. "But when you're used to a short extra point just visually it's taken a little while to get used to.

"It will be interesting to see how that (punt rule) plays out because unlike the NFL there's no fair catch up here. In the past I was just able to hang a ball up real high and it wouldn't be a big deal but you can't really do that here."

A deeply religious man, Waters also showed a gregarious, fun-loving side during training camp. He conducted several comical interviews with teammates for Toronto's website, displaying a quick wit and infectious sense of humour.

Waters will don No. 34 for the second straight season to honour the memory of Tait Hendrix, his best friend who died in a motorcycle accident last year. It's the number Hendrix wore when he and Waters were high school teammates.

"The year has kind of flown by," Waters said. "I still miss him but I'm going to try and do it again for him."

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