MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - He plays with passion and energy and always has something to say but Brandon Isaac will have a bit more juice than usual Friday night.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats colourful linebacker will face his former Toronto Argonauts teammates for the first time since being released by the CFL club in July. Isaac helped the Double Blue win a Grey Cup title last year and was a team captain to start the season before being let go four games into the season.
The four-year CFL veteran will arrive at Rogers Centre with a definite chip on his shoulder in the opening game of a home-and-home series between the long-time rivals. The Argos face the Ticats in Guelph, Ont., on Oct. 14.
"I can say you play a little harder, you can say that because you're going to have that grit to win and try to prove those guys wrong," Isaac said candidly. "I've thought about it (facing the Argos), I've looked at it a few times (on the calendar).
"It's here now and as a team we're ready to play and see where we're at."
Ticats coach Kent Austin, always a model of political correctness when addressing reporters, could only shake his head at Isaac's brutal honesty during Hamilton's pre-game news conference.
"That's not what I wanted to hear," a smiling Austin said, drawing laughter from the assembled media.
And asked if Isaac had been watching his news conferences this season, Austin jokingly quipped: "Apparently not."
However, Austin said he's not concerned about emotions getting the better of Isaac on the field.
"Look, football is an emotional game and you've got to play with your heart but you also have to play with your head," he said. "B.I. brings us . . . the energy, the emotion, the physicality our defence needs.
"He handles it the right way."
Isaac definitely has the gift of the gab on the field and says he'll have plenty to say Friday night.
"There's a couple of things I want to say," he said. "I envision me making certain plays and saying certain things but those plays have to happen for me to say it that way.
"I'm going to talk and whatever I feel at that moment is the right thing to say I'm going to say it."
But Toronto receiver/returner Chad Owens (ribs) — who will be game-time decision — said the Argos expect to face a motivated and vocal Isaac.
"B.I. is a good football player," Owens said. "He tries to get under your skin but we're not going to involved in that.
"Whether he knows it or not, that energizes both sides of the football, that will get us going. We have to know where he's at, we have to understand what he's doing, when he's blitzing and we also have to worry about what we're going to do."
The game is an important one for both clubs, who will play their final five regular-season contests against East Division rivals.
Toronto (9-4) can clinch a home playoff game with a win and would cement first in the East if the Montreal Alouettes also lose to the Edmonton Eskimos on Saturday. Hamilton (6-7) can close ground on the front-running Argos with a victory and would claim a post-season berth if Edmonton and Winnipeg (which is visiting Calgary) also both lose.
"That's what our season has come down to," Austin said. "It's pretty apparent there's good and bad news.
"The good news is they're all Eastern teams, the bad news is they're all Eastern teams so we have to prepare well because they're the most meaningful games."
Sophomore Zach Collaros makes his sixth straight start for Toronto in place of veteran Ricky Ray, who suffered a shoulder injury against Calgary on Aug. 23. Ray will be the Argos' No. 3 quarterback behind Collaros and backup Trevor Harris.
"He's not at 100 per cent, he's probably at 85 per cent strength in his arm but if he has to play, he can," Milanovich said of Ray. "We want to get him out there and used to his pre-game routine and going over the wristband . . . so if it's next week or the week after he's ready to start that it's not the first time he goes through it."
Toronto is 4-1 since Ray's injury, becoming the first CFL team ever to win all four games of a four-game road trip in the process,. They rallying from a deficit in each road win.
Collaros has been especially impressive in the fourth quarter of those contest, completing 33-of-38 passes for 372 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions and a stunning 142.5 quarterback rating.
"I guess we've executed, I've thrown better, we've caught it better and done all those things better in the fourth," Collaros said. "I don't really know if their is an answer for that.
"We need to find an answer for the first couple of quarters to get it going and not make it so hard on ourselves."
Hamilton will have rookie safety Courtney Stephen back in the lineup while former Washington Redskin Brandon Banks will return kicks.
"He (Stephen) is going to be a really really good football player in this league for a long time," Austin said. "We had pretty high expectations for him but I think he's developed faster than I thought he would.
"Banks is a natural returner . . . he's got a great initial burst. We'll see come gametime but what I've seen in practice is what I've seen on his tape and that's a guy who has good vision and runs with vision, not just with speed."
Friday night's game will be Toronto's first at home since dropping a lacklustre 20-9 decision to Montreal on Sept. 9, the first game after Ray was injured.
"I'm very excited to be back home," Milanovich said. "Just playing in our stadium and not having to concern yourself with weather and some of the decisions you have to make from a head coach's perspective on the road makes it a little bit cleaner.
"It seems like it's been a long time since we've gone into that locker-room."
Milanovich downplayed the significance of Toronto's record-setting road trip, suggesting it was a first because clubs don't often play four straight games from home. Of more importance, he said, was the Argos pulling together to find ways to win in hostile environments.
But Austin said Toronto deserves to be in the discussion about which are the CFL's top teams.
"They're a good football team, they're well coached, they play well together and they believe in one another," he said. "You can see it, you can see the chemistry . . . It's hard to beat a team that has a high level belief that they're unbeatable."