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Ticats kicker Domagala used to competing for roster spot with Hamilton Tiger-Cats

HAMILTON — As a kicker and undrafted free agent, Canadian Michael Domagala is used to having to put his best foot forward with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. So it will be business as usual for the five-foot-nine, 202-pound St. Catharines, Ont.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats kicker Michael Domagala (19) kicks a field goal against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during second half football action in the 108th CFL Grey Cup in Hamilton, Ont., on Sunday, December 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

HAMILTON — As a kicker and undrafted free agent, Canadian Michael Domagala is used to having to put his best foot forward with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

So it will be business as usual for the five-foot-nine, 202-pound St. Catharines, Ont., native Friday night when Hamilton faces the Toronto Argonauts in Guelph, Ont., in the final CFL exhibition game for both teams. Domagala is one of three kickers with the Ticats — American Seth Small and Ireland native Tadhg Leader are the others.

"You come to practice and you know there's going to be competition," Domagala said following Wednesday's session at Ron Joyce Stadium. "If anything, practice gets you ready for the game and going into the game it's going to be the same thing.

"Whenever you have a kick, go do your job and congratulate your teammates as well. It's a competition but you're also teammates."

The three combined to make all four field goals they attempted in Hamilton's 25-23 exhibition win over the Montreal Alouettes last weekend. Domagala's career-best 49-yard boot was the Ticats' longest of the night.

Small made both of his attempts while Leader's 35-yard effort on the final play earned Hamilton its winning margin.

Hamilton's punters, though, struggled. Incumbent Joel Whitford, an Australian, averaged 33.3 yards on his three attempts while fellow global competitor Blake Hayes punted twice for 54 yards (27-yard average).

Leader's lone punt travelled just 33 yards. All three will have another shot Friday to impress.

"They've hit it well in practice most of camp," Ticats head coach Orlondo Steinauer said of his punters. "It's just making the transition to the game.

"Hopefully we'll see some drastic improvement there."

The contest will also be the final exhibition tuneup for Hamilton's veterans, although Steinauer couldn't predict how much they'll play. The Ticats kick off their regular season at Saskatchewan on June 11.

"It's an overused term but just some growth," Steinauer said of his goal for Friday's contest. "There are things we're emphasizing in practice that we'd like to see in the game.

"I think we're going to take a look at some different people in maybe a couple of different spots and really use this as an evaluation time."

Domagala is entering his second campaign with Hamilton. He attended training camp in 2019 but was released before the start of the regular season, only to re-sign with the club in July 2021.

Domagala made seven-of-10 field goals and eight-of-10 converts in six regular-season games last year and dressed for all three of Hamilton's playoff contests. He hit all six field goals he tried, including three in the Ticats' 33-25 overtime Grey Cup loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Tim Hortons Field.

The former Carleton Raven gives Hamilton roster flexibility as he can do all three kicking jobs. He posted a 43.4-yard punting average in 25 attempts last season and boasted a 71.5-yard average on two kickoffs versus Montreal.

"Most guys at Canadian universities have to do (all three jobs) so coming into this it's very beneficial for us," Domagala said. "I think it keeps you focused because sometimes you'll have a game where there's maybe one kick in the half.

"If you also had to punt I think you're more into the game."

If there's a lesson Domagala has learned during his CFL tenure, it's the importance of having a short memory and living in the moment.

"Coach O always says, 'Next play, next play,'" Domagala said. "You have to turn on the switch the second you step on to the field, it's you're making this kick. Everything is positive, there's no doubt. That's the mindset you must have.

"Once you get your chance, you have to take it. There's not many chances for us Canadian kickers. I was here in 2019 and it didn't work out. You sometimes get another chance so I'm happy they brought me back last year and I've been going from there."

While the 49-yard field goal against Montreal is ancient history, it provided Domagala with a confidence boost.

"I'm riding that wave right now," he said. "That's the longest attempt I've had in a CFL game so it's great to always hit those and help your team win.

"But that was last week, this is this week and that's already in the past for me."

What's ahead, though, is Toronto and the first of five meetings this season with Hamilton's arch rival.

"I know it's at Guelph but it will still feel like that rivalry game," Domagala said.

NOTES — The Ticats signed Canadian defensive lineman Mohamed Diallo on Wednesday. Hamilton selected the six-foot-five, 305-pound Toronto native in the third round, No. 19 overall, in the 2021 CFL draft. Diallo had 4.5 sacks and 35 tackles (nine for a loss) last season at Arizona. Steinauer said Diallo may see some action Friday versus Toronto.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2022.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press