The Hamilton Tiger-Cats are deep into multi-tasking – witness the positional flexibility of Nikita Whitlock; the offensive line; the secondary – and the hiring of former linebacker Ticat Ike Brown as strength-and-conditioning coach is a reflection of that.
Brown replaces Chris Desrosiers, who accepted a job offer closer to his U.S. home.
Although strength and conditioning will be his focus, as a former CFL international who also has player-development experience in the U.S. college game, Brown can also contribute informally to easing young American players’ transition into Canadian pro football.
“When he was here, Ike went from practice roster to a DI (Designated Import), and then back to the PR, and then was given a chance to start, ” says Ticat assistant general manager Shawn Burke.
“He’s been through all these trials and tribulations that young international players do. So he’s a different voice than a coach or management: ‘I’ve been through this. There’s a process of becoming a pro in the CFL that’s different than the NFL or college.’
“It’s another part of the process in developing players.”
The 33-year-old from Saginaw, Mich., played for Central Michigan University and was with the Ticats from 2009-12 before joining the University of Tennessee Vols as an assistant strength-and-conditioning coach under head coach Butch Jones, his former coach at Central Michigan.
Beset by injuries and surgeries, Brown played only 21 games for Hamilton, with the bulk of his time spent on special teams.
When he dressed for the 2012 season opener, it had been 624 days since he last played a CFL game, because of a 2010 shoulder injury, followed by a torn ACL early in 2011 training camp.
“In every negative there is a positive, ” Brown says.
“I’d say those injuries gave me a lot of experience and knowledge on how to work to recover, and about the body in general.
” They increased my knowledge of rehab. It taught me a lot on how to deal with things, not just physically, but emotionally and mentally.”
During his playing days he was known as a “gym rat, ” fascinated by training techniques, conditioning and weight work.
Even during his final two years with the Ticats, he’d been contacted by Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly, another former Central Michigan coach, about joining the Irish’s strength-and-conditioning department, and it was only a short time after his playing career ended that he got the offer from Tennessee.
So with the departure of Desrosiers, who had expanded the strength-and-conditioning portfolio into a year-round role at the stadium, the timing was perfect for Brown to come to Hamilton.
He’ll be here 12 months a year too, which enables Ticat players to avail themselves of not only the Tim Hortons Field facilities in the off-season, but also their conditioning supervisor.
There were nearly 20 Ticats in the area this winter, and Burke feels even more may be inspired to stick around this year.
Brown’s re-arrival also underscores that North American football is one huge Venn Diagram.
He played here, stayed in touch with Burke, and at Tennessee was ultimately working for Condredge Holloway who played with June Jones for the 1982 Toronto Argonauts.
Brown eventually rose to the Vols’ director of welfare and development but left in February, a few months after Butch Jones was fired.
He’ll ultimately report to, and learn from, internationally-acclaimed Matt Nichol, the Ticats’ director of high performance who also oversees the Hamilton Bulldogs’ strength and nutrition programs.
And with his background on and off the CFL field and in player development, he can also act as an unofficial sounding board to any younger players who might need a bit of help grasping how the CFL ratio and roster restrictions can impact them.
“It’ll be helpful, ” he says.
“As a young player, you’re bouncing back and forth and it becomes an emotional battle. You don’t understand it, and it’s easy to get discouraged.
“I’m grateful I went through all of that myself, I got experience, not for me but for other people in helping them adjust to the CFL and the city.
“I look forward to being more than just a strength coach.”
NOTES: Ticat defensive tackle Ted Laurent was among five players given disciplinary fines by the CFL on Tuesday. Laurent was fined an undisclosed amount for a low hit on Saskatchewan quarterback Brandon Bridge in Thursday’s loss to the Roughriders. Ottawa’s A.C. Leonard, Montreal’s Tyrell Sutton, Winnipeg’s Sukh Chungh and Saskatchewan’s Mic’hael Brooks were also fined.
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