Ryan Hinds had a hard time watching the Grey Cup game on Nov. 24, but not just because Hamilton Tiger-Cats, his former team, fell 45-23 to Saskatchewan Roughriders.
That the Ti-Cats went to the CFL championship game without him is what stuck in his craw.
The defensive back was released by Hamilton in August. He landed on his feet in Edmonton, but the Eskimos failed to make the playoffs and he had to watch from the sidelines as the Ti-Cats upset first Montreal Alouettes and then Toronto Argonauts on their way to the show.
“It’s like your girlfriend dumping you, then watching her go on and be really successful,” Hinds said with a chuckle in a chat at North Toronto Collegiate, where he was a football star and a gifted basketball player too.
To the four-year CFL veteran, Hamilton’s decision to release him was a hard football decision, with the coaching staff forced to choose between him and players the team brought in during the preseason specifically to match their defensive strategy.
“I thought I had to catch the eye of someone who wasn’t looking,” Hinds said.
He had played under four different head coaches in those four seasons.
“That’s the business and that’s what you sign up for,” he said. “When you get a new coaching staff, they have guys that they want to succeed.”
Despite some hurt feelings, Hinds says he is in a better head space these days. His transition to Edmonton has been smooth, and his mind is on an upcoming GMAT exam early in the new year, and on a football camp he organizes with Argo Jonathan Hood and Eskimo slotback Matt Carter.
As he runs into North Toronto staff on this visit, Hinds becomes nostalgic about his time at the school.
He might have been late for class or practice now and then, but he always gave his best effort, he says.
“A lot of my best memories, and my closest friends are still guys I spent a lot of time with every day at North Toronto,” Hinds said. “As they say, football bonds never break.”
A one-time athlete of the year, Hinds earned a full scholarship to the University of New Hampshire, where he studied pre-med biology. To get that scholarship, though, coach Glen Beardsley had to convince him to attend the last combine tryouts, in spring 2004.
“I called up Ryan and I said ‘Are you going?’ and he said ‘I don’t know,’” Beardsley recalls. “‘You got to go. This is your chance, your opportunity.’ He already had an outstanding season, but to get exposure to American football is very difficult.
“But he went to the combine, and ran the fastest 40.”
It was Hinds’ only tryout for American schools.
His teachers and coaches at North Toronto speak highly of him, remembering a talented guy and hardworking student who was well liked.
Lorne Smith, his basketball coach at North Toronto, says Hinds was so good he thought he would have attended New Hampshire with a full scholarship in basketball, not football.
“When we played Eastern [Commerce], he’d dribble through them, and no kid could defend that,” giggled Smith, from his home
in Huntsville. “We never practised a press break.
“We would just give it to Ryan and told the other guys to get out his way.”
Hinds played in a different era at North Toronto.
The original century-old school was still standing, and the old football field was covered with dirt and weeds. Despite the look of it, Hinds says he found the atmosphere and attitude toward sports, and its importance to education, very encouraging.
“It still had that potential,” he said. “It wasn’t a sports powerhouse, but the spirit of sports was always here.”
And it was that atmosphere that fuelled his path to today.
“I’ve been absolutely blessed,” he said.
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