May 12, 2024

Ted Laurent made his share of sacks but what he did best was create sack opportunities for others

Back in the magical regular season of 2019, when the Ticats set a franchise record with 15 wins, the defence also increased their sack total by a whopping 24 takedowns.

Most outsiders –even dedicated fans– credited most of that to two outstanding newcomers, Ja’Gared Davis and Dylan Wynn who mounted 25 sacks between them.

But Davis and Wynn are on the inside of the game and they knew the real root of their stunning sack totals which were higher than they’d ever been to that point in their careers.

It was Ted Laurent, the quiet, muscular, Hoover vacuum of resistance in the middle of the line.

Laurent, who has been a Ticat since 2014–the season Tim Hortons Field opened—and starred in Edmonton for three years before that, retired on Sunday, bringing the curtain down on a remarkable career that led to two CFL all-star citations, four East all-star Awards and the nod as East Division Most Outstanding Canadian Player.

And those of us who vote for such awards should have listened  more closely to those who played around him, and awarded him even more honours. Playing beside a plethora of tackles and ends through his eight seasons here, he was the connecting thread of the Front Four. The Ticat defence always started with him and Simoni Lawrence, who also retired this year.

“Ted makes my job so much easier,”  the defensive end Ja’Gared Davis said in the late autumn of that 2019 season. “If you don’t put two guys on him, or at least have a second guy check him, he can wreck a whole game by himself. You line up beside him and it gives you so much freedom to wreak havoc.”

Wynn, the high-motored defensive tackle marveled. “He’s really the backbone of our defence. You know Teddy’s going do his job and demand two blocks every time. And it’s never about him.

“I’ve never had a more selfless teammate than Ted.”

Laurent said last night that he appreciated that kind of analysis because it spoke to the  way he always approached his job.

If left in a one-on-one situation he’d get to the quarterback quickly, while also guarding against the run up the middle, and most of his sacks came at key moments. Three times as a Ticat he registered eight or more sacks himself, and even in a rotating role last year had three. But he understood, and embraced, the role of keeper of the engine room: stoking a fire so others could flame brightly.

He usually occupied the centre and at least one of the guards, funneling quarterbacks and running backs toward others. That’s part of the “inside football” equation which led to Hamilton linebackers–particularly the wide variety of them who played in the middle–chalking up such high defensive tackle stats.

“It’s a real honour to hear that,” Laurent said last night, when reminded of the praise from his partners in the trench.

“I was big on being a team guy. I didn’t mind making a sacrifice or taking on two guys to let the other guys free. I always take pride in making sure the guys playing next to me took the lead, played the best they could and putting up great numbers. I always appreciate people around me looking good.

“Look at my stats and a lot of people are like, ‘He wasn’t a superstar,’ But the guys who played in the game would know ‘he did this, or he did that’.  I like that guys I played with felt that way.”

Laurent WAS a superstar. Even last year at the age of 35, he had an excellent season. Afforded plenty of rest by defensive coordinator Mark Washington to keep him fresh, he was an integral part of the front four rotation, especially effective on the run, and appeared to have another good year, at least, left in him.

“I had a pretty good year,” Laurent agrees. “But I just felt like it was time. Mentally I’m not there, and the body doesn’t feel quite right.”

It was about two months ago, at their home in Florida that Laurent and his wife Ashley, had the discussions which led to the decision –“it was mentally tough”—to close this chapter of his life. He is still weighing options on the future.

“As I said, it was time,” he says.

Laurent, who was born in Montreal but moved to Georgia when he was 12, was a star at Mississippi and was selected by Edmonton in the 2011 supplemental draft. In his three seasons in northern Alberta he had 65 defensive tackles, 11 sacks and a forced fumble, and when became a free agent he was wooed by a number of teams.

But he opted for Hamilton.

“It was the best choice by far,” he said. “I had a chance to talk to coach O, who was the defensive coordinator that year. And (head coach) Kent Austin was the offensive coordinator when I was at Ole Miss. Those guys were two of the main reasons I came.

“And my mom and my wife felt it was a little closer to home and my family could come to see me play. Once I got here I knew right away it was a first-class organization and I felt I wanted to play here as long as I could. I love the fans, the way they treat us so well, I love the city, I love the organization.”

Laurent made an immediate impact, with 22 defensive tackles, nine sacks and a forced fumble as the Ticats went to the 2014 Grey Cup, narrowly losing to Calgary. (That was the called-back Speedy Banks punt return touchdown).

The Ticats also made it to the 2019 Grey Cup and the 2021 Grey Cup which was played at Tim Hortons Field. But Laurent was unable to play in the latter, because he’d had an emergency appendectomy only four days earlier. Who knows what would have happened in that overtime loss had he been able to suit up.  But he did make an inspiring appearance in the locker room, and was a sideline presence during the game.

That was an example of the evolution of Laurent’s persona here.  He was quiet and didn’t like to talk to the media during his first couple of seasons but  year by year grew more outgoing in public and in the locker room.

“My first years, in 2014 and ‘15 I guess I might have seemed like a mean guy,” he smiles. “But as I got more comfortable and relaxed,  and learned more about my teammates and they became good friends, I felt like laughing more, smiling more. Just more relaxed.”

He was part of a large solid core of players who were with the team in 2014, when the Ticats moved into Tim Hortons Field just in time for Labour Day, and stayed together for several seasons–a rarity in the free-agency fluidity of the modern CFL. The group contained, among others,  Laurent, Lawrence, Banks, Mike Filer, Jeremiah Masoli and Mike Daly and was nicknamed The Tim Hortons Generation.

“As I said, it’s the organization, the fans, the community,” Laurent said. “It’s really love  the people give us. It’s a football town and the city supports you up and down. I’m not surprised a lot of people played here for years.  Guys would say, ‘I don’t want to leave.’”

Laurent  himself eschewed free agency several times to remain in black and gold and says that over his nine years — 10, counting the cancelled 2020 season —there were so many highlights it is difficult to choose just a few.

“But the first time we got to play at Tim Hortons Field, that was electric,” he said. “And in 2016 we went into Edmonton and were down 25 points and won (37-31), one of the biggest comebacks in CFL history.

“And to be part of three Cups and play in two was big, especially being part of the one at home (2021).

“The one thing that disappointed me was not being able to bring a Grey Cup to this city. It’s my only regret, but everything else I’m proud of.”

He should be. Ted Laurent is retiring as an all-time Ticat.