Brandon Isaac’s return to the Rogers Centre on Friday will be bittersweet.
It is the place where the veteran linebacker won a Grey Cup last November, with Toronto Argonauts teammates he loved as friends and a boss he thought considered him “one of his guys.” Now, Isaac plays for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and is candid about the still-stinging feeling of his surprise release four games into the 2013 campaign.
The Argos told him he was underperforming, he says, but Isaac now believes he rubbed defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones the wrong way. In Hamilton, he’s been more of a role player than he was in Toronto, but is determined to prove he’s still a valued, every-down guy.
After Toronto’s stellar CFL championship season, the Argos made the 28-year-old their defensive captain. He had been a vocal leader and his hard-hitting style helped set the tone for the ball-hawking 2012 unit. But the 2013 defence was struggling early to adapt to major personnel turnover.
Isaac admits he wasn’t at his finest to start the year, but was averaging four tackles a game and had registered a sack when he was released.
Reflecting on it, Isaac believes his voice may have gotten too loud for Jones’s liking once he became captain.
“I think I rubbed Jones wrong way,” said Isaac, who was playing his fourth season under Jones – two with the Calgary Stampeders before coming to Toronto in 2012 – and considered the two close.
“He’s a great coach, I’m not going to kid you. But sometimes I felt his people skills weren’t always the best. But he’s a good guy. I think communication went bad between me and him. I feel like I stepped on his toes, and he is the head honcho over there. He’s a rough coach, he’s aggressive and mean – and there’s nothing wrong with that, because he’s getting the job done over there.
“But at the same time, I thought I was one of his guys.”
After being cut, Isaac immediately called Ticats defensive co-ordinator Orlondo Steinauer, who had coached the Argos secondary in 2012. The rival squad from down the road quickly found a spot for him.
“He gave me a call and said, ‘Coach, I’m looking for a job,’” said Steinauer, who added he was surprised to hear of the release. “We needed some aggression, some animosity, some life, some trash talking, and that’s what he brings.”
But joining the Ticats has come with challenges. Isaac was injured upon arriving in Hamilton, and by the time he returned to the field, several others had secured spots, leaving him to fill smaller roles rather than the shoes of the every-down starter he was in Toronto.
“I’m a vocal guy and being on the sidelines humbles me,” said Isaac, who has 13 tackles, two sacks and an interception in seven games with the Ticats (6-7). “I want to trash talk, but I can’t talk much from the sidelines, no one listens to the spectators. It’s not fun running my mouth when they’re out there. Then, when I do get in, I try to find myself, but I’ve been struggling with that. But I have to find a way.”
He misses the daily time with the Argos linebackers he still considers beloved friends, such as Marcus Ball, whose daughter he considers like a niece, and Robert McCune, with whom he roomed. But Isaac desperately wants to show up big Friday versus the Double Blue, his Ticats sitting in second place in the East Division, chasing first-place Toronto (9-4).
“I hope coach sends me on blitzes thousands of times, because I’m going to get there. I just want him to send me and believe in me and allow me to have fun, because I’m planning on having fun,” Isaac said.
“Not really to show them, but to show myself that I’m a good football player.”