Noel Prefontaine can’t see himself going out like this.
The Toronto Argonauts veteran kicker/punter, a six-time CFL all-star and a Grey Cup champion, will undergo surgery shortly to repair a four-centimetre labrum tear in his left hip.
He has an anticipated recovery time of four-to-six months, but Prefontaine said Tuesday there are no guarantees that at age 38 he’ll be able to resume his career.
And if that’s the case, Prefontaine’s last-ever play in the CFL will be watching Hamilton’s Chris Williams return a missed Prefontaine field goal 119 yards for a TD in the first half of the Tiger-Cats 36-27 home win over Toronto on Saturday.
“I could have very well played my last game in Hamilton,” Prefontaine said. “As an Argonaut you don’t want to end your career in Hamilton so I think that will give me an extra little push when rehab time comes around.
“Obviously, I have one glimmer of hope and it’s getting it fixed and (we’ll see) what happens after that. Anyone who has ever been through any surgery knows it is not a guarantee. I am not going to feel like a new person when I come out of this thing but the bottom line is the injury is going to be fixed and then I will just take it from there.”
The five-foot-11, 205-pound Prefontaine, an Argos team captain, said he has played through the ailment the last couple of years — first suffering the injury while with Edmonton — but now the condition is dramatically affecting his kicking mechanics.
“Every kick I have feels different and as a kicker that’s a bad place to be,” he said. “It’s not going to promote any kind of consistency and I think going through the first three games and evaluating what I’ve done I think I can honestly say it has been very inconsistent.
“This team cannot afford to have inconsistency at that position and I feel with my injury and how I’m feeling right now I can’t fulfil my responsibility to help this team win.”
The left-footed Prefontaine is currently the CFL’s scoring leader through three weeks with 37 points. But he has connected on just 10-of-15 field goals and has watched opposing returners take back missed attempts for touchdowns in each of Toronto’s last two games.
“It’s not so much pain every time I hit it,” he said. “I get burning a burning sensation in my lower back on my left side and my hip flexor region.
“This is something that needs to be surgically repaired, it’s not something that’s going to heal on its own.”
Toronto signed free-agent Swayze Waters to replace Prefontaine, who was placed on the nine-game injured list Monday. Waters will handle kicking and punting duties Wednesday night when the Argos (1-2) host the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (0-3) at Rogers Centre.
Prefontaine joined the Argos as an unheralded punter in 1998 out of San Diego State, deemed a non-import despite being born in California because he lived with his grandmother while growing up in Quebec. His thundering boots and penchant for racing downfield to make bone-crunching tackles quickly made him a fan favourite.
Prefontaine began kicking field goals in 2002 and has made 332 of 457 career attempts, a 72.6 per cent success ratio. Prefontaine is also among the CFL’s top punters with a solid 45.9-yard career average and helped Toronto win the ‘04 Grey Cup.
Prefontaine spent his first 10 CFL seasons in Toronto before being dealt to Edmonton on May 31, 2008 for a 2009 first-round pick and conditional 2010 selection after former NFL star kicker Mike Vanderjagt, a native of Oakville, Ont., rejoined the Argos. The Double Blue re-acquired Prefontaine on Oct. 12, 2010 for defensive lineman Etienne Legare and the negotiation rights to defensive back Damaso Munoz.
Prefontaine said an MRI in March revealed the full extent of the injury, and because the project recovery time would mean returning at mid-season, he opted to continue playing through it this year, then have the surgery at season’s end.
“Hindsight is 50-50, if I knew I was going to struggle on the field then I think it’s something I probably would’ve contemplated,” he said. “But the bottom line is I felt I had been dealing with it for a while and told the people involved I had been playing on this thing and felt I could continue to do so.
“When you kick a field goal you’re supposed to be over the ball and be able to drive it so your legswing would normally come down. I can’t swing down on it right now so the clips I’ve seen of me kicking field goals, my leg is coming up at impact which is the worst thing I could possibly do. But it’s coming up because I’m compensating due to my hip.
“I don’t have enough strength in there, the tear is bothering me to the point where I can’t mechanically be consistent therefore it’s affecting my overall results.”
Although he won’t be kicking any time soon, Prefontaine says he’ll certainly remain visible with the Argos.
“My role now is going to be the same other than playing,” he said. “As a leader and a voted captain on this team and as much as I care for these guys, I’m going to be here any way that I can to help them win a Grey Cup.
“Whatever our goals are I’m going to try to help them achieve them.”