TORONTO – One of the most heated rivalries in the CFL is set to resume this Monday when the Toronto Argonauts travel down the QEW and take on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. In anticipation of Monday’s “Battle of Ontario” showdown, reporters will examine the extensive history of this storied rivalry. Marketing departments will build tension and enthusiasm amongst their local fan bases by pointing out just how much these two teams despise one another. While both angles are justified, Monday’s game at Tim Horton’s Field means a little something more for Argonauts rookie wide receiver Vidal Hazelton. The 27-year-old Staten Island, New York native will be reunited with one of his former college teammates, Tiger-Cats starting quarterback Zach Collaros.
“Zach and I hooked up in college and we’ve have been real close ever since,” commented Hazelton following a recent Argonauts’ practice. “He’s my brother. We talk football for sure but we’re always asking about each other’s family and how everyone is doing.”
While they’re no longer teammates, Hazelton, a pro football journeyman, credits his opportunity in the CFL to some of the groundwork done by Collaros.
“While he was with Toronto, he was always telling me to get up here and what a great league this is,” said Hazelton. “He was also telling the organization about me and what I could do.”
After four games, both the Double Blue and Hazelton, owe Collaros a big thank you. Much was made during the off-season as to the relative lack of depth and experience Toronto had at the wide receiver position. Hazelton, along with the development of fellow rookies Kevin Elliott and Tori Gurley, have really helped ease those concerns. Hazelton has been a welcomed addition to a multi-faceted receiving core. Through four games, the six-foot-two, 209-pound wideout has registered 198 yards receiving, as well as a touchdown, on 16 receptions.
“At first the adjustment to the CFL game, and the waggle specifically, was hard but things have slowed down a whole lot,” stated Hazelton. “Now I’m getting more comfortable reading coverages and playing at a high speed.”
It’s a transition that has come rather quickly for a variety of reasons.
“First off, I’ve gotten great support from the veterans on the team like Chad Owens, who’s always giving me advice,” said Hazelton. “With so many talented players on offence, teams can’t really focus on any one of us which makes all our jobs easier.”
Beyond the football field, Hazelton says he has loved his time in Toronto and believes the city itself has helped ease his transition to the Canadian Football League.
“Culturally, Toronto reminds me a lot of New York,” declared Hazelton. “I’ve always heard of Toronto and now that I’m here I love everything about it.
Has there been something he’s still not used to?
“Just the money. I’m okay with the different colours but I find myself walking around with too many coins in my pockets,” jokes Hazelton. That’s not always comfortable.”
As the Argos prepare for Monday’s game against their longtime provincial rivals, Hazelton knows that his early-season success has very much to do with his ability to simply take it one game at a time and focus on the task at hand. Of course, an inter-division tilt against Hamilton is not an ordinary game and usually comes with a tremendous back drop.
“I honestly don’t know much about the rivalry with Hamilton,” admits Hazelton, who spent parts of three seasons in the NFL prior to heading north of the border. “Guys have started to talk about it, but I’m focussed on winning every game. We can win a Grey Cup here and Monday is just another step toward that.”
As for his reunion with his buddy Zach?
“Zach, more than anything, is a really competitive person,” says Hazelton, “but I can’t wait to shake his hand on the field after we won, so I can just trash talk the guy.”
Written By: Anthony Ciardulli