Brandonites should recognize a familiar face when they see the Hamilton Tiger-Cats offence take the field in tonight’s Canadian Football League game in Calgary.
Crocus Plains graduate Landon Rice has moved into Hamilton’s starting lineup at left guard and will make the second straight start of his young CFL career tonight (9 p.m., TSN).
It’s a dream come true for the 6-foot-6, 315-pounder, who spent last year on the Ticats practice roster before making his debut in the second half of a Grey Cup rematch against the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Week 1 this season and starting versus the Edmonton Eskimos on Week 2.
"It means a lot," Rice said last night from Calgary. "This is what I’ve been working for and I’m just happy that the team and coaches have the faith in me to go on the field and do the job that needs to be done.
"I’m definitely falling into a comfort zone where I’m able to play my game and go out there and do my job. I got my first CFL regular-season action against Saskatchewan in the second half and then Edmonton the week after I got my first start. I like the roll I’m going on and I want to keep on track and keep improving."
Rice is following in the footsteps of fellow Crocus Plainsmen alumnus Derek Sholdice as well as former Brandonites Craig and Scott Hendrickson as offensive linemen from the Wheat City who have gone on to start in the CFL.
While he’s grateful to crack the lineup, he is not taking anything for granted. The 26-year-old product of the Manitoba Bisons works hard every week to prepare as much as he can to make sure he’s "100 per cent mentally ready going into every game."
Rice did lose one of his mentors from last season in centre Marwan Hage, who was selected by the Ottawa Redblacks in the expansion draft before announcing his retirement. Rice learned a lot from the 10-year CFL veteran and now he’s still trying to learn as much as he can from the current veterans on the offensive line, like eight-year CFLer and new starting centre Tim O’Neill.
Although there have been a few changes to Hamilton’s offensive line, Rice feels its gradually coming together.
"That’s the thing about the O-line is it’s about those five guys coming together as a unit and that’s something that can always be improved upon and something we work to improve every day," he said.
The Ticats are struggling right now. They have a new starting quarterback in Zach Collaros, who’s injured and won’t play today, and dropped their first two games for the fifth straight year.
However, Rice isn’t too worried. He knows there’s a lot of games left and that his team bounced back from a 1-4 start last season to finish second in the East Division and advanced to the Grey Cup game.
He plans to enjoy ride this year and can’t wait to play in Calgary today.
"Very looking forward to it," he said. "Calgary is a stadium I played in a lot playing against the Dinos when I was with the Bisons. I feel comfortable going in there and I know what their field is about.
"I’m just looking for good things out of this season, like everybody on this team is, and we just plan on sticking to the path we’re on and playing hard and playing physical."