It will be a full return Thursday night for the CFL.
The league will kick off the 2022 season with the Montreal Alouettes visiting the Calgary Stampeders. Teams will play a full 18-game schedule for the first time since 2019.
The CFL didn't play in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Action resumed last year with a shortened 14-game slate.
Here's a look at 10 players (in no particular order) who'll be worth watching this year:
JEREMIAH MASOLI: The 33-year-old quarterback begins his first season with Ottawa after eight campaigns with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Masoli signed as a free agent with the Redblacks, reuniting with new GM Shawn Burke, who spent time with the Ticats before heading to the Canadian capital.
Masoli went to three Grey Cups with Hamilton (2014, 2019, 2021). He was the East Division's outstanding player in 2018 and is a dual threat, averaging six yards on 252 career carries. Last year, Ottawa's offence was last overall in offensive points (13.4 per game), offensive touchdowns (13), net yards (261.8) and passing (194.6)
NATHAN ROURKE: The 24-year-old Victoria native enters his first season as the B.C. Lions starting quarterback following the retirement of veteran Mike Reilly. The six-foot-two, 209-pound Rourke made two starts in 2021 and completed 52-of-82 passes (63.4 per cent) for 754 yards with three TDs and five interceptions while rushing 18 times for 111 yards (6.2-yard average) and five touchdowns.
Rourke has big shoes to fill as Reilly threw for a CFL-high 3,283 yards last season with 14 touchdowns and just six interceptions despite battling an elbow ailment. B.C. selected Rourke in the second round, No. 15 overall, in the 2020 CFL draft after a stellar career at Ohio, where twice he captured the Jon Cornish Trophy as the top Canadian playing NCAA football.
BO LEVI MITCHELL: The Calgary Stampeders quarterback has twice been named the league's outstanding player and has claimed two Grey Cup MVP titles while leading his team to championships. But the 32-year-old Texan has battled injuries the last two seasons and was limited to 11 regular-season appearances in both 2019 and 2021 (the CFL didn't play in 2020 due to the global pandemic).
Mitchell completed 211-of-325 passes (64.9 per cent) for 2,594 yards last season, but for the first time in his CFL career had more interceptions (13) than touchdowns (11). Calgary (8-6) finished third in the West Division and fell 33-30 in overtime to Saskatchewan in the conference semifinal. Mitchell finished 26-of-36 passing with 285 yards in that game, but had two interceptions and no TDs.
ANDREW HARRIS: The Canadian running back will chase a third straight Grey Cup title, this time with a different team. Harris was a key cog in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' drive to consecutive titles in 2019 and '21 before signing with the Toronto Argonauts as a free agent.
Harris, 35, had a stellar five-year run with the Bombers. The five-foot-10 216-pound Winnipeg native topped the league in rushing three times. Harris began his career with B.C. in 2010 and earned his first Grey Cup championship with the Lions in 2011. He's been named a league all-star five times and its top Canadian in 2017.
WILLIAM STANBACK: The Montreal Alouettes running back was the CFL's lone 1,000-yard rusher last season, running for a league-high 1,176 yards in 12 regular-season starts. His average of 98 yards rushing per game was also a league high and six times he ran for 100 or more yards in a game, including 203 yards — to tie a career high — in a 37-16 win over the Argonauts.
The six-foot, 233-pound Stanback has run for 2,763 yards in 42 regular-season games since joining the Alouettes in 2018. He's also averaging a solid 6.2 yards per carry over that span. Stanback has recorded 74 receptions for 756 yards (10.2-yard average) with two touchdowns. Stanback's status for the season opener is unclear as he was limited in practice this week with an ankle injury.
KENNY LAWLER: There will be plenty of eyes on Lawler after he signed a one-year contract reportedly worth $300,000 with the Edmonton Elks. The deal would make Lawler the CFL's highest-paid non-quarterback.
The six-foot-three, 197-pound Lawler was the CFL's top receiver last season, registering 64 catches for 1,014 yards and six TDs with Winnipeg. Lawler was a member of two Grey Cup-winning teams with the Bombers and had 107 catches for 1,651 yards and 10 touchdowns during his time in Manitoba.
BRANDON BANKS: It's a new beginning for the veteran receiver, who signed as a free agent with the rival Argonauts after spending eight seasons with Hamilton.
Banks, 34, dubbed "Speedy B" because of his breakaway speed, had 422 catches for 5,678 yards and 44 TDs over 111 career regular-season contests with Hamilton. The five-foot-seven, 150-pound Banks was a league all-star four times and in 2019 claimed the CFL's outstanding player award after registering a club-record 112 catches for 1,550 yards and 13 TDs.
He battled injuries last year, registering 44 catches for 474 yards and two TDs in 10 regular-season games as Hamilton made a second straight Grey Cup appearance, losing a 33-25 overtime decision to Winnipeg at Tim Hortons Field.
CHARELSTON HUGHES: The veteran rush end rejoined the Saskatchewan Roughriders following a disappointing '21 campaign with Toronto. After five straight seasons of double-digit sacks, Hughes, 38, had just two in nine regular-season contests with the Argonauts.
Over the two previous seasons with Saskatchewan, the six-foot-one, 246-pound Hughes had a combined 31 sacks in 34 regular-season games. He also registered 85 defensive tackles, seven forced fumbles and had two defensive touchdowns. Hughes enters the 2022 campaign with 132 career sacks and seven times has amassed 10 or more sacks in a season.
DELVIN BREAUX SR.: The veteran cornerback came out retirement to sign with the B.C. Lions in the off-season. Breaux, 32, last played with the Tiger-Cats in 2019, helping them reach the Grey Cup that year.
The six-foot-one, 210-pound Breaux played four seasons with Hamilton (2013-14, 2018-19) and also spent three years with the NFL's New Orleans Saints (2015-17). He appeared in 49 career games with the Ticats, recording 110 tackles, 16 pass knockdowns, six forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries, three tackles for loss, two interceptions, two touchdowns (interception, fumble returns) and a sack. Breaux earned CFL all-star honours twice and was voted to the CFL’s first all-decade team in November 2020.
RENE PAREDES: The '21 season was another solid one for the Calgary kicker. Parades led the CFL in field goals tried (48), made (44) and success percentage (91.7). He was perfect from 40 yards or less (26-of-26) and made 18-of-22 attempts from outside 40 yards, with a season long of 52 yards.
Paredes could be an even more important factor this season given the CFL's rule changes. Following field goals and singles, opponents will take possession at their 40-yard line instead of the 35. That should put teams in field-goal range quicker.
Three times Parades has made over 50 field goals in a season, his career best being 57 over 18 games in 2016.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2021.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press