CFL Pass

Hamilton Tiger-Cats receiver Brandon Banks' top '19 priority is winning Grey Cup

HAMILTON — The ring is the thing this year for Brandon Banks.

The Hamilton receiver is coming off two straight 1,000-yard seasons and a career campaign in 2018. But the 31-year-old’s top priority this year is helping the Tiger-Cats secure their first Grey Cup title since 1999.

“I have nothing else to prove to anybody,” Banks said candidly this week from the Ticats’ training camp at Ron Joyce Stadium. “I just have to prove I can win a Grey Cup, that’s about it.

“I think it was May 1 when I got here and I wrote some goals down for my season. The first was the Grey Cup. I just want the ring.”

The five-foot-seven, 160-pound Banks came agonizingly close to delivering Hamilton a championship five years ago. Banks’ 90-yard punt return TD with 35 seconds remaining put the Ticats ahead of Calgary in the 2014 Grey Cup game.

But the return was nullified by an illegal block penalty, allowing the Stampeders to register the 20-16 victory at B.C. Place Stadium. And for the Ticats it was their second straight Grey Cup defeat after dropping a 45-23 decision to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2013.

Banks’ 2018 Grey Cup dream ended bitterly in a 35-31 loss to the Ottawa Redblacks on Oct. 19. He suffered a season-ending broken clavicle after registering eight catches for 133 yards and a TD.

At the time, Banks was tied with teammate Luke Tasker for the CFL lead in TD catches (11) and second overall in catches (94) and receiving yards (1,423). Ottawa earned a 30-13 road win over Hamilton on Oct. 27, then advanced to the Grey Cup by downing the Ticats 46-27 in the conference final Nov. 18.

Banks underwent surgery to have a metal plate and eight screws placed in his left collarbone. While Banks is feeling no limitations physically during training camp, he’s needing more time to convince his mind of that.

“I’ve hit the ground with no problem so as far as that’s concerned it’s perfect and I’m healthy,” Banks said. “(Ticats quarterback Jeremiah) Masoli threw me a couple of balls and I couldn’t go for them because my mind is telling me not to.

“It’s all up here (pointing to his head). But if I had to get into a game tomorrow, I’d be able to do everything I want to do.”

Banks broke into the CFL with Hamilton in 2013 and immediately established himself as a premier punt returner. But it was under June Jones in 2017 that Banks also developed into a big-play receiver.

Jones replaced Kent Austin as interim head coach following Hamilton’s 0-8 start. The Ticats took immediately to the laid-back Jones, posting a 6-4 record the rest of the way to secure Jones the full-time coaching reins.

The hiring of Jones benefited both Masoli and Banks. Jones’ first decision was to install Masoli as his starter ahead of incumbent Zach Collaros, and Masoli developed an instant chemistry with the mercurial Banks.

Banks had just eight catches for 52 yards under Austin but registered 59 receptions for 959 yards and eight TDs after Jones took over.

However, Masoli and Banks are adjusting to a new offensive co-ordinator after Jones left Hamilton last month to become the head coach of the XFL’s Houston franchise. That prompted new head coach Orlondo Steinauer to promote receivers coach Tommy Condell — Hamilton’s offensive co-ordinator under Austin in 2013-14 — as Jones’ replacement.

And it doesn’t take long to realize the biggest difference that exists between the two. Be it during practice or training camp, the soft-spoken Jones never raised his voice and often dealt with his players quietly on a one-to-basis.

Condell, on the other hand, is much more vocal.

“I wouldn’t say they’re complete opposites because they’re both good coaches,” Banks said. “But they definitely do it differently.

“Tommy is more vocal and if the plays says you need to be at 12 yards, you better be at 12 yards, not 13 yards or 11 yards. I’m not saying June wasn’t that way but he was more of a laid-back coach.”

Banks said both he and Masoli are picking up the nuances of Condell’s offence. But the two have flashed signs during camp of picking up where they left off in 2018.

Steinauer, who Hamilton promoted to head coach last December as Jones agreed to step back to assistant head coach/offensive co-ordinator, likes what he’s seen from Banks already.

“He’s nicknamed Speedy for a reason,” Steinauer said. “I think he’s taken on more of a leadership role.

“He’s raising the play of everybody around him and I think that’s the biggest thing he brings besides individually what you see out there.”

Many feel Hamilton is the team to beat this year in the East considering Ottawa’s off-season losses. The Redblacks enter the ’19 campaign minus offensive co-ordinator Jaime Elizondo (Tampa Bay, XFL), quarterback Trevor Harris (Edmonton), running back William Powell (Saskatchewan), receiver Greg Ellingson (Edmonton) and offensive lineman SirVincent Rogers (Edmonton), to name a few.

But Banks disagrees.

“I look at it like this,” he said. “You’ve got to beat the champion to be the champion so Ottawa is the team to beat.

“We might look good on paper but you’ve still got to go out there and put it all together. Hopefully we can do that.”