Henry Burris isn’t the least bit surprised that he’s a former Hamilton Tiger-Cat.
The veteran quarterback spent two productive seasons with Hamilton, twice leading the CFL in passing and last year guiding the franchise to its first Grey Cup berth since 1999. Yet, Burris never felt he was one of coach Kent Austin’s “guys” and was convinced midway through the 2013 campaign that he wouldn’t be back in 2014.
That feeling became reality in the off-season when Burris was released after Hamilton signed free agent Zach Collaros. Burris faces his former team for the first time Saturday night when he leads the expansion Ottawa RedBlacks against the Ticats at Ron Joyce Stadium.
“No, I never did [feel he was one of Austin’s guys],” Burris said. “I wanted to be … but unfortunately either you’re his guy or you aren’t and he lets you know that.
“Bottom line, I don’t worry if I’m the coach’s guy or not. I play for my coaches all the time but the one thing is I’ve got to go to war with those guys [teammates] on the field each and every day. Those are the guys you don’t want to look in the eye and disappoint.”
Burris was all smiles Friday, not surprising given his well-earned moniker “Smilin’ Hank.” The 39-year-old Texan said he’s motivated to help Ottawa (1-2) earn a second-straight win, not redemption.
But Burris admitted he was disappointed to leave Hamilton, especially considering the promotional work he did for the organization.
“Whenever we needed to expose, promote or whatever, you always knew I was going to be attached to it,” he said. “That’s what was kind of the disappointing part once everything happened.
“It was kind of like, ‘Thank you, but no thank you.’ But this is professional football, that’s kind of the things you run into sometimes. My thoughts towards this city and organization haven’t changed, but they [Ticats] are the bad guys now.”
Burris said the decision that he leave Hamilton was hardly a mutual one.
“There wasn’t any agreement … basically the first thing I heard was, ‘Hank, we appreciate everything, but we went in a different direction,’” he said. “It was kind of bittersweet, you think you get to a level this organization hadn’t been to since ’99 but, hey, it is what it is.
“I’ve been part of something like this before. I’m a professional about it and to me it’s just logs on the fire. It allows me to continue to work hard to go out and help our organization in Ottawa exceed expectations.”
Burris signed a three-year contract with Ottawa and has become the face of the new franchise. And last weekend, he helped the RedBlacks secure their first-ever win, an 18-17 decision over the Toronto Argonauts in their home-opener.
It’s been a tough start to the season for Hamilton (0-3). Third-year pro Dan LeFevour makes his first career start with Collaros recovering from a concussion.
But Austin said while the Ticats decided to move on from Burris, the veteran player also made the same decision.
“At that time we decided to go in a different direction and guess what, so did Hank,” Austin said. “Hank had opportunities to be back here and decided not to so that tends to go unspoken as well.
“That being said, we’re very happy with the decision we made and I know Hank’s in a great situation. I’m still fond of Henry and wish him nothing but success in his career … except when he plays us.”
Burris has completed just over 55 per cent of his passes with Ottawa for 591 yards. But the 15-year veteran, who has made 189 career starts, hasn’t thrown an interception this season.
Burris isn’t the only former Ticat on Ottawa’s roster. Running back Chevon Walker spent two seasons in Hamilton before being left unprotected in the CFL dispersal draft. He’s averaging a sparkling 5.8 yards per rush with his new team.
“He’s going to be pumped up,” Burris said of Walker. “I’m going to have that little pin in my hand just deflating the air that’s going to be in him for the game.”
Ottawa head coach Rick Campbell isn’t concerned about Burris facing his former team.
“I don’t think he’s going to try harder because he tries his best every week,” Campbell said. “When you’re around football long enough, coaching or playing, there’s always situations that come up where you move on to another team.
“When the ball is kicked off, it’s going to be all about football.”
LeFevour is excited to be making his first CFL start against Burris, and for good reason. The 27-year-old is a native of Downers Grove, Ill., and has fond memories watching Burris when he played for the NFL’s Chicago Bears in 2002.
“I remember being in high school when he’s starting on Monday Night Football for the Chicago Bears,” LeFevour said. “I don’t mean to make him feel old … yes I do.”
Predictably, Burris had the last word.
“It’s good to see I don’t have to change [LeFevour’s] diapers any more,” Burris said with a broad grin. “He’d poop on himself sometimes when he saw all-out blitzes coming, but hopefully he’ll hold it together now.
“Dan’s got a lot of ability, I’ve said that from Day 1. I want him to have a great career, just not against us.”