The B.C. Lions no longer have the luxury of using two kickers in a game.
The Lions released kicker Hugh O’Neill on Friday, leaving veteran Paul McCallum to handle punts, field goals and kick-offs in Saturday’s game against the Calgary Stampeders.
B.C. general manager Wally Buono said O’Neill was released after the team could not come to terms on a contract extension with him.
“We wanted a longer commitment from him and, obviously, we weren’t able to come to that,” said Buono. “When you look at it going forward, we weren’t going to invest more time in a [short-term] kicker. Obviously, we wanted an investment [in terms of contract length] in return. That didn’t occur, we couldn’t come to an agreement and it was just best to move on.”
O’Neill, who gained notoriety by growing a full beard that drew comparisons to ZZ Top band members and Duck Dynasty TV show members, had finally kicked in regular-season games this year after serving as McCallum’s understudy for the past two seasons.
The 23-year-old Edmonton native handled all of the kicking duties while McCallum was sidelined with a groin injury in two pre-season games and the first two games of the regular season. After McCallum returned, O’Neill handled kick-offs.
According to Buono, O’Neill was planning to explore his options when he became a free agent next February before choosing to re-sign with the Lions.
“We tried to see if we couldn’t work things out, and we couldn’t get there,” said Buono.
As a result of O’Neill’s release, the Lions added kicker Steven Shott to the practice roster. Financial factors would be less of an issue with him because practice-roster players typically earn much less than players on the active roster.
The Lions released Shott, a 23-year-old Vancouver native, in training camp, but he has been kicking informally after team workouts at B.C.’s practice facility recently.
“When you look at Steve’s material, raw talent, I think Steve is probably as gifted as ever I’ve seen anybody, when you look at his natural power,” said Buono. “To develop that, I think, is a benefit to him as we’ve done with a Sean Whyte [a former McCallum understudy now with Montreal] or [Lions running back] Andrew Harris or Steve Doege (a Lions practice-roster player]. You’ve gotta spend some time with these guys; and if you work them, you can reap the benefits of it. [O’Neill] wasn’t willing to make a commitment.”
A former member of the Okanagan Sun of the B.C. Junior Football Conference, Shott missed all of 2011 and most of 2012 due to a career-threatening back injury that required surgery.
He is expected to remain on the practice roster, so the Lions won’t use two kickers in a game for the foreseeable future.
Buono said he is confident that McCallum, the CFL’s oldest player at 43, can handle all three duties. The GM said that McCallum has done an excellent job, “other than the little glitch at the end of the Winnipeg game,” when he shanked a punt. Also, his leg has handled the wear and tear that was a concern when the club decided before training camp to go with two kickers in games.
“If we don’t like something, we can always go out and find another kicker that can do a part that we don’t like,” said Buono.
If McCallum gets hurt during a game, the Lions can use backup quarterback Thomas DeMarco, slotback Paris Jackson or linebacker Kyle Jones, who all have kicking experience, as emergency replacements.
Coach Mike Benevides said “the progress and everything else” wasn’t there with O’Neill, who made six of seven convert attempts, was good on four of five field goals, the longest from 40 yards out, and punted for a 40.2-yard average.
“When you take look at it, (having two kickers in a game) is a luxury we can’t afford,” said Benevides.
O’Neill’s agent could not be reached immediately for comment.