HAMILTON — It took some time but Ja'Gared Davis is finally on the field with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
The veteran defensive lineman missed the first five days of training camp while serving his mandatory seven-day quarantine. A travel issue resulted in Davis arriving a little later than originally expected, thus pushing back the start of his quarantine.
And for Davis, a return to the field couldn't have come fast enough.
"To grace the football field with my brothers, it was great," he said during a videoconference. "Just to laugh, the energy, the tenacity of guys wanting to make plays ... it felt like I was home again."
The return of the six-foot-one, 238-pound Davis is certainly good news for the Ticats. He had a career-high 13 sacks in 2019, his first season with Hamilton, to finish second in the CFL behind Charleston Hughes (16), the former Saskatchewan Roughrider now with the Toronto Argonauts.
Davis, 30, combined with Dylan Wynn (career-best 11 sacks) to give Hamilton a potent 1-2 pass-rush threat.
"He's got an infectious personality," Ticats head coach Orlondo Steinauer said of Davis. "You get an energy lift when you bring in a guy like Ja’Gared.
"Nobody was missing it more than him."
It's been a long time away for all CFL players. The league didn't play in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but will kick off a 14-game schedule Aug. 5.
"I missed (football) a lot, I really did," said Davis, a native of Crockett, Tex. "But I also enjoyed the time off because it gave me time to actually be at home with family.
"This was the longest tenure I've had to be home since I left high school in 2009. Being able to catch all of the birthdays, the major holidays, all of the small things, means a lot to me."
Davis helped Hamilton win a club-record 15 regular-season games in 2019 and advance to the Grey Cup before losing 33-12 to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. That marked a fourth straight championship game appearance for Davis, who spent his first three CFL seasons with the Calgary Stampeders (2016-2018).
Hamilton returns a number of the veterans from its 2019 roster. The Ticats' defence was the league's stingiest in offensive points (17.9 per game) and TDs allowed (33). The team also ranked third in sacks, with 54 — two behind Edmonton and Saskatchewan for the league lead — and forced turnovers, with 44 (three behind Edmonton, one behind Winnipeg).
Davis gives defensive coordinator Mark Washington full marks for the unit's prowess.
"It's his spirit — the way he talks, the way he walks, the way he presents himself," Davis said. "It's infectious, it makes us want to be better men, be better together and play together because we know our defence is a representation of him.
"We want to make sure we hold him to the highest level because we know he does the same for us."
Hamilton will open the '21 CFL season visiting Winnipeg on Aug. 5. Davis said there will be more than enough sacks to go around and keep everyone on the defensive unit happy.
"I want everybody on the defence to actually get at least one sack this year," he said. "Whether they're a starter or the last guy on the depth chart.
"We have depth at every position so I really feel as a collective group we have one of the top defensive lines in the league this year."
In the meantime, it's training camp and a time for players to kick off the rust and get back into football shape.
"Everybody is going to have some type of rust," Davis said. "No matter how hard you were training or what type of training you were doing, nothing will emulate actually doing it live.
"It's getting your timing down, getting your steps down, working in unison with your teammates because it's not just you. You've been training by yourself but now we're playing together ... I've got to make sure the guy next to me is in order, the guy behind me is in order, the (defensive backs) are in order."
But as a CFL veteran, Davis doesn't anticipate it taking him long to get back into his football groove.
"For me, it's like getting back on a bike after not riding for five years," he said.
"Once you've done it, it will always be there. It's fine-tuning and putting a little WD-40 on all of the wheels and getting it back rolling again."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 16, 2021.
The Canadian Press