Another story on Mathews,
Mathews eager to make the most of his chance in Canada
ITHACA – The field in Canadian football — kind of like Canada itself — features a lot more wide-open spaces than does its U.S. counterpart.
That's just one of the reasons former Cornell record-setting quarterback Jeff Mathews is eager to start the next chapter of his football life.
"It's a little bit of a new game and a new system, and I'm excited," Mathews said Tuesday night, shortly after signing a one-year contract with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League. The team has an option for a second year, Mathews said.
The move north won't be totally foreign to Mathews, a 2014 Cornell graduate who set 47 school and 18 Ivy League records for passing and total offense in a four-year career. With him for most of his time on East Hill were both Kent Austin — the TiCats' president of football operations, general manager and head coach — and wide receiver Luke Tasker, a 2013 CU grad who just completed his second year in Hamilton.
Neither Austin nor Tasker — who said by text that he expects to sign a new contract by the middle of next week — were available for comment on Wednesday.
Mathews, 6-foot-4 with a cannon for a right arm, signed as a free agent with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons shortly after last year's draft but was released on Aug. 24, at the end of training camp. On Sept. 1, he was signed to the Indianapolis Colts' practice squad but was released a week later. In early December, he was signed by the Arizona Cardinals and was on its practice squad through the end of the season.
Throughout all of his football travels over the last eight months, Mathews has been in occasional contact with Austin, usually for advice or encouragement as he navigated the unfamiliar waters of the pro game. Austin, after all, had been there: He played at Mississippi and was drafted in 1986 by the St. Louis Cardinals, but attempted one pass in two years and was released.
Austin wound up playing 10 seasons with four teams in the CFL, winning league titles with Saskatchewan in 1989 and British Columbia in '94. He also coached Saskatchewan to a Grey Cup in 2007 and was named the CFL's coach of the year.
"I reached out to (Austin), moreso for some advice, since he was in that situation when he was playing," the 23-year-old Mathews said. "I asked him what he thougth about it, and he just encouraged me to be patient and wait for my opportunity."
As it turns out, Austin provided him with that opportunity.
"He contacted me and I talked to him a couple of times just to see where they were at," said the easy-going Mathews, a Camarillo, Calif., native, "and he told me they wanted me up there. So we negotiated the contract and it's all good, so now I'm headed up to Hamilton. I'm excited."
The Ivy League's offensive player of the year as a sophomore in 2011, Mathews will have to make some quick adjustments to the CFL field and to some of the subtle rule differences. The CFL playing surface is 110 yards from end zone to end zone and 65 yards across, 10 yards longer and 12 yards wider than in the U.S. The goalposts are on the goal line in Canada as opposed to the end line in the U.S., but the end zones are also twice as deep (20 yards) in the CFL.
The biggest rule differences are the number of players on the field per team — 12 in Canada, one more than in the U.S. — and three downs as opposed to four in American football.
"You've got 12 guys, so there's one more eligible receiver, which sounds like a lot of fun for me," he said with a laugh. "It changes the game a little bit, and then some of the rules are different, the field's a little bigger, so some of the strategies are a little different. Hopefully I can pick that up pretty quickly."
One thing in Mathews' favor as he vies for a job is the TiCats' offensive braintrust — Austin and Tommy Condell, the Ti-Cats' offensive coordinator and receivers coach. Condell was the associate head coach and receivers coach for three years under Austin at Cornell.
"The scheme's similar (to what we ran at Cornell)," Mathews said, "but with that extra guy, there are some nuances to it that I've got to learn quickly."
The TiCats finished fourth in total offense and second in passing offense in the CFL, led by 26-year-old quarterback Zach Collaros, who completed 279 of 424 passes (65.8 pct.) for 3,261 yards with 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Mathews said he expects to be in Hamilton in March to get familiar with things and to "hang out and throw with 'Task'," he said, referring to former All-Ivy wideout Tasker, who finished fourth in the league with 72 receptions this past season for 937 yards and five touchdowns.
Training camp begins in early June, with the regular season starting in late June.
Mathews, a three-time All-Ivy selection at Cornell and the league's all-time passing leader with 11,284 career yards and 72 touchdowns, said that all Austin is guaranteeing him is a chance to compete. That's good enough for him.
"He (Austin) has always been about the best guy playing, so I'm excited," Mathews said. "That's all you want to hear, at any point."
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