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As Joe Montford enters Hamilton Tiger-Cats royalty, he will forever remember his mentor Don Sutherin.

Montford, a feared pass rusher, will be inducted to the Tiger-Cats’ Wall of Honour at halftime of Thursday night’s home game against the Edmonton Eskimos. The 48-year-old will become the 23rd player enshrined, and the first at Tim Hortons Field.

It was Sutherin, then Hamilton’s defensive co-ordinator, who moved Montford from linebacker to rush end upon Montford’s arrival in 1996. Sutherin later served as the Ticats head coach from 1998-01, but was much more than just a coach to Montford.

“He didn’t just coach me, he brought me into his home,” Montford told reporters Wednesday. “He’d also threaten me, he’d say, ‘I’ve got a couple of buddies who’ll put some cement shoes on you and take you out into the bay if you don’t have a good game.’

“Having the love to want to bring you in and start feeding you, that’s a good thing coming from North Carolina.”

The six-foot-one, 225-pound Montford, a native of Beaufort, N.C., played eight of his 11 CFL seasons with Hamilton. He quickly developed into one of the league’s most effective pass rushers, registering 115 of his 135 career sacks in 141 games with the Ticats, second-most in franchise history.

Three times Montford was named the CFL’s top defensive player (1998, 2000-01) and was a league and division all-star four straight seasons (1998-2001). In 1999, Montford recorded a club-record 26 sacks, finishing a half-sack shy of James (Quick) Parker’s single-season mark.

Montford also recovered 18 fumbles, returning one for a TD, while with Hamilton, playing his entire Ticats tenure at venerable Ivor Wynne Stadium.

Tim Hortons Field stands on the same site as Ivor Wynne Stadium, which closed Oct. 27, 2012 and was later demolished for the new venue. But Montford will always consider Ivor Wynne home.

“It was a sanctuary,” he said. “We had a beer room there and I don’t drink but I would just hang out with the guys.

“It wasn’t just drinking beer, it was building fellowship, building family, building friends. It was also knowing every time I looked up (from the field) I knew all those guys in Box J were going to be there. I knew the exact same fans were going to be there every year. For me, that’s like home.”

Montford credits many of his Canadian-born teammates in Hamilton with teaching him what the CFL was all about.

“The Andrew Griggs, the Mike Philbricks, the Rob Hitchcocks, Ozzy (Paul Osbaldiston), all those guys they bled black and gold all their lives,” Montford said. “A lot of times I tell the American guys who come in, ‘Take a look a the Canadian players, see what they invest and then you’ve got to go above them . . . they know the importance of the CFL.

“Sometimes you get thinking about the NFL. You’re kind of playing here but you’re looking over there. For me, I was where I was supposed to be.”

But Montford was much more than a pass-rushing specialist. He also recorded 587 tackles in 185 career games with the Shreveport Pirates (1995), Hamilton, Toronto Argonauts (2002) and Edmonton (2005-06).

“He was, by far, the best player I’ve ever coached,” said Ticats defensive-line coach Dennis McPhee. “He was totally dominant.

“You couldn’t get your hands on him and not just because he’d run around the corner. It was because he was good with his hands. He didn’t have a lunch pail full of moves, he just kept guys’ hands off him and kept going vertical. That was Joe.”

Montford played his college football at South Carolina State. In 2006, he was ranked 40th in TSN’s Top 50 all-time CFL players and was inducted to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2011.

Montford earned Grey Cup rings with Hamilton (1999) and Edmonton (2005). The Eskimos nipped Montreal 38-35 and it was Montford who chased Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo out of the pocket on third-and-31 and forced him to attempt a quick kick on the game’s final play.

After recording 10 sacks with Edmonton in ‘05, Montford had just one in four games the following season. Montford was very appreciative that his induction Thursday night came with the Eskimos were in town.

“Hamilton was my city but my second child was born in Edmonton,” he said. “For me, Canada is my second home and Edmonton is another part of me, which is a great part.”

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