Paul McCallum hadn’t touched a football since retiring when he answered his phone on Sunday.
By Tuesday morning, he was back kicking with the B.C. Lions.
The 46-year-old has rejoined the playoff-bound CFL club with a game left in the regular season after Richie Leone’s troubles with field goals and converts reached its breaking point over the weekend.
“I had come to terms with my football career [being] over,” said McCallum, who spent last season with the Saskatchewan Roughriders before retiring as a Lion in March. “Mentally I had moved on from it.”
The Vancouver native played 23 CFL seasons, including 11 with B.C. from 1993-94 and then again from 2006-14. He has also suited up for 11 playoff games and two Grey Cups, winning in both 2006 and 2011 with the Lions.
And while he hadn’t booted a football in ages, McCallum said he has stayed active.
“Kicking soccer balls with my daughter,” he said. “I feel pretty good. We’ll see what happens.
“It’s a ball. I’ve been kicking since I was four, so I figure I’ll be okay.”
What hasn’t been okay in 2016 for the Lions is Leone’s ability to hit field goals and converts.
An excellent punter with an average of 49.3 yards, the 24-year-old has struggled with place kicking. He missed two converts, as well as field goal attempts of 30 and 45 yards, in B.C.’s 24-6 road win over Saskatchewan on Saturday. He has hit on just 35-of-51 of his field goal attempts (68.6 per cent) this season.
Lions head coach and general manager Wally Buono said that Leone will still handle punts and kickoffs, while McCallum will line up for field goals inside the 50-yard line.
“I don’t see it as desperation,” said Buono, who added Leone could still be called on for longer kicks. “At certain points you’ve got to move forward. We’re moving forward. We were fortunate to have Paul here.”
Coincidentally, it was Leone’s presence that ended McCallum’s last stint with the Lions at training camp in 2015. Former head coach Jeff Tedford wanted one player to handle all three facets of the kicking game, and McCallum found himself on the outside looking in.
Despite that potentially awkward situation, McCallum and Leone became friends during their brief time as teammates and remained close afterward, with the former offering the player who took his job tips on their craft.
“We’ve talked if he had any issues or if there were things he needed help with,” said McCallum, who sells real estate in the Vancouver area is also in the process of opening a yoga studio in Kamloops, B.C. “He’s a punter. He’s learning how to kick and it’s not an easy thing to do.”
For his part, Leone seemed upbeat about seeing his role reduced.
“We’re lucky that [McCallum] is down the street and we can go get one of the best ones to do it all-time,” he said. “As a competitor you want to be the guy, but at the end of the day …Wally knows what he’s doing.”
Buono said the impact that missing field goals – especially chip shots – can have on team morale went into the decision to go out and get a player who has kicked in numerous pressure-packed situations.
“Whether you bring somebody in or you cut somebody or you demote somebody … there’s always messages being sent,” Buono said. “It’s clear that we needed to be as competitive in that area [as possible], and we weren’t.”
McCallum made all 36 of his previous playoff field-goal attempts for the Lions, including a team-record 6-for-6 in the club’s 2006 Grey Cup win.
“[Misses] can get disheartening at times, especially as many times as it happened this past game, but I still have confidence in Richie,” said veteran defensive back Ryan Phillips. “Richie is still definitely a guy that’s helped us win ball games this year.
“For us to bring in somebody like Paul just makes us even stronger.”
B.C. (11-6) hosts Saskatchewan (5-12) on Saturday and can cement second in the West Division with a win or tie. That game could also be meaningless in the standings if the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (10-7) fail to beat the Ottawa RedBlacks (8-8-1), who have clinched first in the East Division, on Friday night.
“The team’s playing well,” said McCallum. “Hopefully I can help them get to the Grey Cup.”Report Typo/Error