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COVID-19 pandemic having an impact upon kicker Lauther's preparation

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a monkey wrench into Brett Lauther's plans. The Saskatchewan Roughriders kicker was planning to spend the off-season in Regina training at the team's facility in preparation for the 2020 season.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a monkey wrench into Brett Lauther's plans.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders kicker was planning to spend the off-season in Regina training at the team's facility in preparation for the 2020 season. But the Riders' facility is closed, as are all gyms, because of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Lauther is staying with his girlfriend and her family on their farm in Bindloss, Alta., near the Saskatchewan border, and the pandemic is wreaking havoc with the 29-year-old Truro, N.S., native's off-season workouts.

"I definitely don't have many of the things I usually do and I'm not near as prepared as I usually am right now if there's going to be a season," Lauther said. "I can still do some bodyweight home workouts and go for runs, small things like that.

"I was planning on training at the stadium, that's where all of my stuff is. I'm just one of many cases around the league where it's difficult to try to do what you need to do to get ready."

Lauther hit 32-of-41 field goals (78 per cent) and amassed 123 points last season in helping Saskatchewan (13-5) finish atop the West Division. But the Riders' promising campaign ended with a 23-15 home loss to the eventual Grey Cup-champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the conference final.

The six-foot-one, 195-pound Lauther, who played collegiately at Saint Mary's, is preparing for his third season with the Riders. He established career highs in field goals tried (60), made (54) and points (195) in 2018 as Saskatchewan (12-6) finished second in the West before losing 23-18 to Winnipeg in the conference semifinal.

Despite falling short the past two seasons, there was a sense of optimism among Riders players that this could be Saskatchewan's year, especially with the Grey Cup game slated for Mosaic Stadium in November. In 2013, the Riders beat Hamilton 45-23 in the Grey Cup game in Regina.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has put things on hold with the CFL announcing earlier this month the season won't start before the beginning of July, at the earliest. Lauther was also looking forward to the Riders' game July 11 at Saint Mary's in Halifax versus the Toronto Argonauts.

"These last two seasons, I know we didn't get the job done but I feel like we've built something pretty special," he said. "It's pretty hard to win 25 games in two years in the CFL and it doesn't happen too often but we're building the right way.

"I mean with football you never know what's going to happen come playoffs . . . but everyone kind of knew what could happen this year."

Adding to the angst Lauther and other CFL players are feeling is the uncertainty surrounding when — or if — the season will begin. As one of Saskatchewan's union reps, Lauther fields plenty of questions he can't answer definitively.

"Honestly, it gets to the point where it's disheartening," he said. "You're just trying to keep everyone calm and in the loop and keep all the spirits up with what's going on.

"Many guys are dealing with pretty difficult times, unsure if they're going to be getting a paycheque for mortgages, their families, their kids. It's not just about a game anymore, it's also about peoples' livelihoods."

When football does resume, Lauther is confident he'll be able to quickly find his kicking groove.

"As I've got older I've always found less is more with kicking, it's more quality over quantity," he said. "I know many guys at different positions . . . need more time and do more physical work that requires more of a training camp or pre-season to really get doing.

"Personally I don't think I need too much time and I have confidence in myself but I'd like . . . to not have all this going on."

And Luther admits to being a little concerned about being unable to effectively work on his trade.

"Many guys (at other positions) can make mistakes and make up for it later," Lauther said. "There aren't too many times you can be missing kicks and make up for it later if you're going to keep a job.

"It's one of those things it's a little worrisome but something you can't really let it worry you or else it's not going to help."

Kicking is only one part of the equation. It's a three-part process also involving the snap and hold and Lauther feels very fortunate to have Jorgen Hus and punter Jon Ryan return to handle the long-snapping and holding duties, respectively.

"When you make kicks, everyone thinks it was just you and that you did so well," Lauther said. "The same when you miss . . . but it's a three-step process.

"I'm lucky to have two of the best guys in the league so that goes a long way for me."

When Ryan was with the NFL's Seattle Seahawks, he threw a TD pass in a playoff game off fake punt. Lauther said both he and Ryan look forward to situations when head coach Craig Dickenson — also the Riders' special-teams co-ordinator — might call for a fake.

"I'd say we're both pretty athletic," Lauther said. "We both grew up playing different positions in different sports and for me, I think hockey was always the sport I was better at before finding my way to football.

"We're both kind of in coach Dicky's ear trying to get a play or two or anything we can under our belts."

 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 1, 2020.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press