Coach Lirim is playing the in the East Division Championship this week, follow along as he share some of his insights before the Final on Sunday and the week leading up to the Grey Cup in Calgary.
GREY CUP BLOG:
First and foremost, I apologize I didn't have this blog live as I was experiencing my second Grey Cup. I tried to do some video blogs while we were at some of the events but it got to be a little much and didn't want to be distracted nor did I want the Ticats to think that I wasn't focused on the biggest game of the year.
I'll begin from Sundays dominant win over Edmonton Eskimos. I thought all three phases played really well in the Eastern Final and personally it was one of my best games in CFL playoffs as I made my longest playoff kick of 48 yards. I also thought our long snapper coach Aaron Crawford and Luke Tasker were at their best, I was seeing my lines for field goals and punting extremely well. Having a great operation is one of the most important things as a field goal kicker and sometimes at different levels of football it is very difficult to find but some of the tricks and tips we use is true bribery (NO JOKE). It's a high pressure position that very few people are willing to work on it after practice, but yet it has everything to do with your success. I did the math this morning, and Luke Tasker is amongst the best holders in the world. Although Dane Evans our starting QB is great at holding too but having to orchestrate the offense and holding is not an easy task. With Tasker we operated this season at roughly 96%+ missing only two kicks all season, coincidence, I'd like to respectively say no because he is the best, but don't get me wrong this why it is so important to have 2 great holders. Justin Medlock once said "you're only as good as your second holder." So as young kicker in college or high school finding your Tasker and Evans is crucial and buying them some McDonald's or taking them to a nice dinner or getting them a small gift can go a long way of potentially getting you to the next level.
Back to the Eastern Final, I felt great leading up to this week because I was prepared mentally, physically and emotionally. As the playoffs start you don't want to change anything you've done all season but you almost have to search for a new level of concentration and discipline because every kick means that much more. Going 4/4 and almost 46 yards a punt special teams played crucial role in the win in the eastern final. After the final whistle went and the trophy was presented which we didn't touch (superstition-- in 2017 we touched the trophy and we won the Grey Cup, but some of our leaders didn't want to touch the trophy so we didn't). Personally if you have won a trophy it is no superstition to touch it, you won, you deserve to lift it because you've accomplished something only two teams have in 2019, but that's my personal opinion. Things turned around quickly moving on to the Grey Cup in Calgary.
The Grey Cup is so easy to be distracted because there is so much going on. Firstly, you receive a plethora of great messages from friends and family, and long time teammates. You try to respond to as many as possible out of respect. Next is figuring out who from your family can come, the hotel and the flights and the amount of game tickets you need. The team helps in these situation but unless you want to pay for an arm and a leg it's better to take care of these situations on your own. I know this from my experience from last Grey Cup, and as did my family so they really did a lot of the leg work in configuring everything and coming up with a plan that can be executed as quickly as possible because I didn't want this to linger once Wednesday came around (first day of practice).
Day A- Team Meeting
The day after the eastern final game included a quick 30 minute logistics meeting and a 2.5 hour kicking session with coach kick where we literally stood at the 35 yard line at Redeemer and worked on technique. I knew I was ready when I hit more than 5 footballs above the netting at Redeemer where as all offseason I had maybe hit 5 footballs above the netting all off season. So it was rewarding to see that all of our hard work kicking off of the ground had paid off.
Day 0 (Tuesday)- Travel Day.
Started of with team meetings and then we had an amazing send off from our fans. There had to be at least 1,000 people, two of them happen to be a surprise-- my parents. Landing in Calgary we were pleasantly greeted by the media and Grey Cup toques. Arriving early in the evening in Calgary and not having any obligations it was a night to really get ready for the week, walking around finding out where our meeting rooms were, getting the rest of our swag (zip up sweater, hat, and a t-shirt), and grabbing a bite to eat before the biggest week of the year began.
Day 1 (Wednesday)
It had snowed the last two days in Calgary and we were scheduled to practice in the morning, since the fields weren't shoveled off we had to go inside. We had no choice but to go indoors but I really didn't like this experience because Calgary only has one indoor field in the middle of nowhere (45 mins away) and the roof was no higher than 30 feet, but this was no excuse for myself not to work on my technique because I knew if coach kick was able to come he'd be loving it because we could be kicking in the net for 2 hours straight lol, funny but the truth and that's why I love working with coach. So I did just that. Prior to practice we had about 75 mins in between special teams meetings and leaving for practice and trying to stick to my regular routine as much as possible I went to get a quick 45 min full body workout. After practice we held player special teams meetings preparing for Sunday, we wanted to go through some of our hardest looks that posed the most threat to our punt unit, I thought this was a great idea and it was a success getting everyone on the same page. Soon after dinner I decided to head back to the gym for a little recovery circuit and hit the sauna for about 20 mins before heading to bed and preparing for the busiest day of the week Day 2- Media Day.
Day 2 - Media Day
Media Day is the longest day of the week. It started off by heading to a media breakfast which a lot of you guys saw which is a lot of fun because there are a lot of games, and it supposed to be a more relaxed event, unless your Brandon Banks and Simoni Lawrence and in the case you're interviewing and talking for the whole two hours while the less popular guys play games and take pictures. I had a few interviews, one of the main interviews was done by the Ottawa Sun, they did a background story on my road to the CFL, which made me reflect on my journey from the little town I grew up in Kosovo.
We came back from our mandatory media breakfast and went straight into meetings and similar to everyday Day 2 schedule I had about 75 minutes in between offensive and defensive meetings and I took this time to do a quick workout and prepare myself physically for the longest practice of the week which luckily happened to be outside. This was a closed practice where no one was allowed to come watch us. We were at city field in Calgary and the weather was perfect, the practice was well executed on all three phases. We had done all our tricks, challenged our units with the hardest looks we could possibly get and just didn't want to leave any stones un turned for our preparation for the week. I decided to take all the reps for our regular teams and scout periods where we act as the opposing team as I wanted to get acclimatized as quickly as possible. On other weeks I would usually let our second kicker who is part of the global expansion take the scout reps. But this day was a dress rehearsal for myself as I wanted to feel out how prepared I am for the game and if I needed to work on any final adjustments which I had worked on with coach before our last day of practice which would be tomorrow.
Practice ended and we headed back to the hotel where we had 90 minutes to eat dinner and get ready for the awards ceremony. We had a lot of our teammates nominated for major awards and so we wanted to show our support for their hard work and recognition. This was a neat experience as 4 of our guys won their respected awards. Lastly our coach won Coach of the Year as a rookie head coach, which was a great achievement of his hard worked and vision he had posed on our team. The night was done and we bolted back to our hotel as we had the morning practice scheduled the following day.
Day 3- Last practice at McMahon Stadium
This day is structured with longer meetings and shorter practice time and very little special teams, which meant I had plenty of time to practice on the same field that we were going to play on Sunday. In between meetings day 3 means I get to work on my flexibility and make sure any final muscle kinks and soreness are taken care of. Of course I had looked at the weather that day and oddly enough it was almost going to be identical to Sundays which made the mental preparation that much easier because I could practice all my kicks days before the game with almost identical conditions, which is rare especially if you paly in Hamilton where the weather changes hourly. Regardless, the practice went well, and we finished any last minute details that we need to iron out as a team and we were ready for our walk through day.
Day 4 - Walk through Day
Walk through day is very simple it full of meetings and then we travel to the stadium to hold a mandatory walkthrough and call out to make sure all the guys know which unit they're on and who they are backing up. After this meeting there was not much else to do but get ready to play.
The Day has come and with many many text messages coming through of well wishes it was really important to minimize distractions and focus on the game.
Our day started with special teams meetings and with a surprise by the Box J boys as they came into our room for a quick pep talk (very passionate and die hard Ticat fans). That was cool but we proceeded with our usual game day plan of meetings and finishing off with our team meeting and watching our highlight tape fromthe week before. The meetings ran about 15/20 mins late and as a kicker I had mapped everything out by the minute and had to make a couple adjustments to get back on track. Luckily my wife was in town for the game so she had giving all the specialists a ride to the stadium about 2 hours before the actual team bus left the hotel. I arrived at the stadium and got right to work. I had my pre game/walkthrough clothes ready and organized, went outside to do my usual visualization for 30 mins and then came back in realizing that it is a lot windier than it had said online. However, this was an opportunity to showcase all the hard work I have been putting in all year to extend my range to well over 63 yards going with the wind and about 53 into it. I knew if I had the opportunity to kick a long with the wind that the possibilities were there but going into the wind wasn't going to be easy because although it is mile high and the ball travels further it is a lot easier for the ball to move side to side because of the light air, it's almost a double edged sword. The pre game went really well, except 2 kicks-- going with the wind I had trouble with the 47 on the right hash and the 47 on the left hash going into the wind but luckily hashed those two areas and made the adjustments on the next warm up kick. The wind was tricky, the trickiest I had seen it at McMahon stadium in over 7 years because it was strong but it would stop at times and swirl which made each kick unique in how you approached it. This is where having the best operation in the league minimizes mistakes where as with most kickers it is the opposite. we ended up making a 44 yard field goal with the wind and a 47 going into the wind. I was really happy with the way I made contact with the ball, my height and the accuracy on both kicks. The feeling of success making field goals really makes all the hard work we had put in all year long with coach worth it because you are the only one that knows how hard you've worked and how much time you have dedicated to getting to this moment .
There isn't much to say about the game because we truly didn't play to our standards when it mattered most but personally I hit a couple milestones that I was proud of and going head to head with arguably one of the best kickers in CFL history was a challenge I have been waiting for a long time. Getting to this game you want to face the best because that only brings more motivation to go toe to toe all game long and I think I did more than just that. I felt this game was less nerve racking than any other game this year because this what I had wanted, this what I had dreamed of, this was what Coach Kick and Coach Darryl and I had been working tirelessly for the opportunity to be playing in the biggest game of the year the Grey Cup on November 24th, 2019 and that's where we were. Although this one is going to take along time to heal it is part of football and it's something that you endure playing sports and it makes the enjoyment of victory that much sweater when it does happen.
My only tip for the year for any young kickers reading this.. like in basketball when you hear some players say "the ball never lies" this beautiful game of football knows how much time you have put in and it knows how well you have prepared so when your time comes to play or showcase your skills in front of coaches, teammates, families, fans, you better be prepared to deliver because we play this game for one reason and one reason only to be the best kicker technically, mentally, and physically.
EASTERN FINALS BLOG
Monday: Team Day Off
We found out yesterday that we are playing Edmonton, and although we had the day off today, my day consisted of getting a lot of rest, watching film of Edmonton's special teams and returns, and finally a yoga class to get the mind and body ready for a big week of preparation.
If you watched any of the Division Semi-final games, the kicking game played a key role in both victories especially from their kickers both going 5/5 and 4/4. this is a time of year where kickers are needed most and that is why this weeks preparations will be on another level of concentration and getting ready for Sundays game.
Key to preparing for this week is to:
- Minimize as many distractions as possible,
- Get coaching from Coach Kick & Darryl throughout the week
- Make sure to keep up with my workout regiment
- Lots of rest and eating healthy
- and mentally prepare at all times.
TUESDAY: Workout + Practice + fundamental work with Coach Kick
Yesterday I started off my morning with our physio team loosening up my lower body, mainly the hips and lower back as they are connected with everything that we do.
We had our normal special teams meetings after that and with 75 minutes in between meetings and practice I was able to put in a lower body workout with some abs and back exercises included. Nothing to heavy but enough to keep the muscles engaged.
Yesterday was an extra practice with our team and we got to practice a significant amount on punt and field goals with the full team, which I thought was important for us moving closer to Sunday.
After practice, I ended up meeting with coach and Mark Milan to work on mechanics and although it was -10 outside we were able to get a lot done, Marked helped me push my leg on a cold day to hit a 57 twice. Coach Kick thought it was very important for a time like this to see the extreme length of our field goal distance to better gauge what I could hit come Sunday. Since Sunday is supposed to be +6 degrees, hitting a 57 in -10 weather was a great start to our week. I am glad coach had challenged us because I would have not gone outside my comfort zone, especially on a day like yesterday and a week like the Eastern Final. Mentally I believe it has given me an edge and feeling ready for the week ahead. Prior to our on field work we worked on field goal and punting fundamentals into the kicking net for about 30-45 minutes.. something I have to keep doing during practice to keep getting better.
My morning consisted of a quick morning workout at 6am, getting closer to game day, my workout consist of maintenance more than muscle growth. Started off with a run for 15 minutes, then proceeded to work on my core and back for about 30 minutes. The workout was quick and efficient.
Day 1: in football terms included us watching film from the day prior to make any adjustments as a team, then busing over to Redeemer University College with the team for our indoor practice, although the conditions were ok to practice outside but I think it was more effective for the whole team to have our first indoor practice of the year to make sure we get everything completed where the weather was neutralized.
Once we arrived back from the stadium coach kick and I had planned to be indoors as well for this sessions to work on technique and see how we have improved by neutralizing the weather. We started off by working in the net for about 20 minutes on just field goals, and then we slowly moved back to the 35 yard line and stayed there for a good 30 minutes. Mark Milan also joined us and followed similar progressions. After working on our mechanics for almost one hour than we decided to move to longer field goals. I felt as the height on my field goals has traumatically improved from prior years. we got as gar as 60 yards. I was happy with my performance and my adjustments that coach taught us and look forward to using those mechanics in Thursdays Day 2 practice.
After 2 extra hours of kicking with coach and our normal day practice for with our team I was read for bed at 6 pm.
As usual my morning started off with a workout prior to meetings. I did a quick 15 minute run/sprints then I moved on to working out on my upper body mixing in ankle strength and mobility exercises. Nothing to wild but important to say the least. After meetings we had about 45 mins break while the offensive and defensive meetings continued (the good thing about being a kicker, lots of free time on your hand), nevertheless, a student athletic therapist come in to help us stretch, and since he's there for our assistance I took full advantage of it and got a nice athletic stretch from him. However, looking back at this I wish I had done it earlier in the morning because I felt as my body was almost too loose, and I was getting a little too much height on punts not being able to cut my punts and field goals through the cold win on a lower trajectory.
Day 2 practice for us is our longest practice of the week, and this my opportunity to go through all the kicking situations with the team. I usually try to avoid kickoffs throughout the week aside from maybe one or two this late in the season but I felt good yesterday and just wanted to test out my distance and direction prior to Sundays game as the weather was going to be very similar. I am happy I did the kickoffs, and I feel like I am prepared mentally, and physically for this weekends' East final.
Post practice, I took it as a recovery day by doing the usual hot tub, cold tub, and sauna. This is type of routine is very important for recovery as we've played over 18 regular season games, plus two preseason games, and training camp. The long seasons takes a toll so doing all these recovery is crucial going into the last two games of the season.
Today was our last full practice, we call this game day - Day 3, we basically go through some of the most important plays and situations. I started my morning with a little bit of a lower body mobility, then went to our special teams meeting to review the film from Day 2 and any adjustments we should make for the game. Watching the film from the prior day, I felt as if I was a little fast on my field goals so my whole goal today at practice is to slow down and use technique over speed and power.
Today's practice is usually shorter than the other days but our meetings are longer. So that means that we had more time in-between meetings and practice. I finished my mobility, and then was able to get out early for practice and work on my goal for the day and that was to slow down. Since Day-3 practice is very fast pace it was very important to be in the moment each play we ran. I thought it was my best practice from the week and I was able to connect with the ball the way I could be happy about.
Prior years Day 3 had always been a very heavy kicking day but this year it has been the opposite and I have felt it on game day because I feel much fresher than previous years. My total kick count today was probably about 40 total field goal, punts, and kickoffs. Half of those kicks were during warm-up working on technique. Overall practice went well, and we feel like we are ready for this Sunday's East Final.