Argonauts battle Ticats in CFL season opener at BMO Field

TORONTO – He was the face of the franchise during a difficult period but Chad Owens won’t be celebrating the Toronto Argonauts’ move to BMO Field.

Owens will be there Thursday night when the Argos open the 2016 regular season at the refurbished outdoor venue but as a member of the rival Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Owens spent six productive seasons in Double Blue before heading to Steeltown as a free agent and won’t be feeling sentimental about his return.

ChangSha Night Net

“You can’t, man,” he said. “This is a one snap and clear business.

“You make a good play, bad play you have to forget about it and move on to the next one. That way you can make that play. Life is no different.”

For years, Owens was the face of the Argos.

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On the field, he was an exciting playmaker on both offence and special teams. In 2012, he was named the CFL’s outstanding player after registering 94 catches for 1,328 yards and six TDs, amassing a record 3,840 all-purpose yards. He capped that season by helping Toronto capture the historic 100th Grey Cup game at Rogers Centre.

Owens was also active in the community, even moving his family from Hawaii to live full-time in southern Ontario. In 2013, Toronto rewarded Owens with a lucrative contract extension reportedly worth $225,000 annually that would’ve made Owens the league’s highest-paid non-quarterback.

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But after missing just two games his first three years in Toronto, Owens was sidelined for 17 regular-season games the last three seasons. In 2015, he finished with 55 catches for 570 yards and two touchdowns over 13 contests. He also returned 37 punts for 468 yards (12.6-yard average) and a touchdown and three kickoffs for 49 yards.

When Owens hit the free-agent market, Toronto GM Jim Barker faced a difficult dilemma: Invest in a 34-year-old receiver or spend to shore up his Canadian content. Barker opted for the latter, which allowed Owens to head to Hamilton.

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Another factor too was the strength of Toronto’s receiving corps. Last year, newcomers Vidal Hazelton (70 catches, 803 yards, four TDs), Tori Gurley (58 catches, 791 yards, 10 TDs) and Kevin Elliott (50 catches, 642 yards, eight TDs) all emerged as viable threats while Diontae Spencer (36 catches, 502 yards, three TDs) showed flashes of brilliance replacing Owens.

And this season, veteran Andre Durie returns following two injury-plagued campaigns.

The Argos faced no shortage of challenges during Owens’ tenure.

Last year, the club lost four home dates at Rogers Centre due to the Pan-Am Games and baseball playoffs. In 2014, the Argos were forced to practise at various fields before finally securing a permanent facility at Downsview Park.

VIDEO: Tour of the newly renovated BMO Field

During that season, Toronto was also the first opponent at both Ottawa’s TD Place and Hamilton’s Tim Hortons Field. So if there was a player who deserved to enjoy playing in the stability the Argos currently have – a new home under new principle owners Larry Tanenbaum, the chairman of Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment, and Bell – a case could be made for Owens.

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An emotional player under normal circumstances, there’s little doubt Owens will be very motivated to face his former team. But the veteran receiver won’t be fuelled by redemption on the field.

“I don’t think the circumstances are a secret but my focus is on winning,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll have some emotions but it’s about channelling those emotions and using them as positive, good energy and making sure I can execute my assignment.”

Kent Austin, Hamilton’s head coach/vice-president of football operations, isn’t worried about Owens being consumed by revenge Thursday night.

“He’s been a pro for a long time,” Austin said. “There’s a reason why guys have been successful for a long period of time.

“To sustain that level of success you have to have certain qualities about you that continue to foster an environment for your success and Chad has those qualities. He knows it’s not about him. He’ll be fired up but it’s about the team.”

Hamilton starter Jeremiah Masoli said Owens will definitely be ready to play Thursday.

“My first time playing with him (in Hamilton’s 42-25 exhibition win over Ottawa on Friday) he had a lot of juice so I don’t know how much more he can have,” Masoli said. “I’m going to let him do (what Owens does) and feed off his energy.”

Owens is expecting an electric atmosphere at BMO Field, something that was sorely lacking during Toronto’s time at the cavernous Rogers Centre.

“I think it’s going to be awesome,” he said. “The fans and players deserve that stadium.

“It’s going to be a good thing for the league, it will be exciting.”

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