Former Riders kicker Brett Lauther patiently awaiting opportunity to kick in the NFL

·5 min read

The 2020 football season continues to be an exercise in patience for Brett Lauther.

For months, the 29-year-old native of Truro, N.S., prepared for an uncertain CFL season during the COVID-19 pandemic. In August, after the '20 campaign was nixed, Lauther opted out of his contact with the Saskatchewan Roughriders hoping to secure an NFL opportunity.

Almost two months later, Lauther continues to work out and remains ready for that chance to come. 

"I'm a little surprised (to not get an NFL tryout) but that's not something I can control," the six-foot-one, 195-pound Lauther said during a telephone interview Tuesday. "I'm just controlling what I can control and will be ready if/when I get the chance to go out there.

"I feel like I can play and do it at the level they (NFL kickers) are at so why would I stop?"

It's been a difficult year for many NFL kickers, most notably Tennessee's Stephen Gostkowski. A three-time Super Bowl champion with New England, Gostkowski has made just 10-of-16 attempts (62.5 per cent) with the Titans and is five-of-11 from inside 50 yards this year.

His errant boot from 45 yards out with 19 seconds remaining Sunday preserved Pittsburgh's 27-24 win over Tennessee. The 36-year-old kicker, who's slated to earn a US$2-million base salary this year, made a 25-yard field goal to give the Titans a season-opening 16-14 win over Denver after missing three field goals and a convert.

Lauther has made 86-of-101 field goals (85.1 per cent) the last two seasons with Saskatchewan. He began his pro career with Hamilton in 2013 and over his CFL tenure has connected on 92-of-111 field goals (82.9 per cent).

But it hasn't always been a smooth ride. Lauther spent time on the practice roster with Hamilton (2014), Saskatchewan (2015, '17), Toronto (2015) and Edmonton (2017) before finally seeing regular-season action in 2018 with the Riders.

That year, he made 54-of-60 field goals (90 per cent) and led the CFL in scoring (198 points) en route to being a West Division all-star.

Being able to survive that CFL whirlwind and still succeed is helping Lauther remain patient.

"I kind of feel like I'm just going down the road with the CFL again," he said. "The toughest part now is you have to stay ready on your own, you keep working hard in the dark and eventually the light will shine, I guess.

"Without that (CFL experience), it's kind of something that's easier to maybe want to give up on or think that it's a pretty far-fetched dream."

Lauther isn't the only CFL kicker looking to play in the NFL. Lirim Hajrullahu, a resident of Oakville, Ont., who spent the last three seasons with Hamilton, remains a free agent after being released during training camp by the Los Angeles Rams.

On Sunday, former CFL kicker Sergio Castillo kicked a field goal and convert in the New York Jets' 18-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills. Castillo, an American who played for the B.C. Lions last year, replaced injured incumbent Sam Ficken (groin) before returning to the practice roster.

Brent Maher, another American who played for Ottawa (2014-15, '17) and Hamilton (2016), is on the Houston Texans' practice roster after spending time this season with the Jets and Washington. Maher spent 2018-19 with the Dallas Cowboys before being released

Former B.C. Lion Ty Long is in his second season as the Los Angeles Chargers punter but also made seven-of-nine field goals last year.

Lauther, meanwhile, definitely misses football.

"Oh, the most," he said. "That's another reason why I opted out.

"I knew we weren't playing this year and if there was a slim chance I could play again, it would make sense to go try and go down there and compete at the highest level."

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly thrown a monkey wrench into Lauther's 2020 football plans. He spent time this off-season working out in Regina with high expectations after Saskatchewan (13-5) finished 2019 atop the West Division.

The Riders were to face the Toronto Argonauts on July 25 at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, where Lauther played collegiately. And Regina was to host the Grey Cup for the first time since 2013 when Saskatchewan defeated Hamilton 45-23.

"If you're a fan of the league you know how big that (Grey Cup in Regina) is compared to other Grey Cups," Lauther said. "That's not a knock on any other team but my first year with Hamilton we made it to the Grey Cup in Saskatchewan and that was an eye-opening moment for me.

"It's been a horrible year in a number of different ways for the CFL from the passings (Lions owner David Braley and longtime Edmonton Football Team locker-room attendant Joey Moss both died Monday) to not playing to losing probably the biggest Grey Cup that might've ever happened in the history of the game. There's been a lot of negative or bad news this year, for sure."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 27, 2020.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press