Photo: Canadian Press
TORONTO — Ryan Hunter is grateful to still be able to play professional football.
The six-foot-three, 315-pound offensive lineman is in his first full week training with the Toronto Argonauts. Hunter, 27, of North Bay, Ontario, signed for the CFL club on Friday after spending four seasons in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs (2018-19) and the Los Angeles Chargers (2020-21).
“That’s all, I’m just happy to be where I want to be and still playing football,” Hunter said after Argos practice on Tuesday. “I’ve always said I wanted to play pro football at the highest level available and now for me that’s what happened.
“I’m here to help this team in any way I can.”
Hunter proved to be a quick study. Toronto (8-5) visited the Calgary Stampeders (9-5) on Saturday night and Hunter felt he would be ready to play for his new team by then.
Toronto has won the home playoffs and is looking to finish top of the Eastern Division — and strengthen the home court for the conference finals — for the second year in a row.
“Physically I feel great, I’m in the best shape of my life,” he said. “I’m familiar with a lot of the actual drama, just the terminology is different.
“It’s about being able to mentally process things and making sure your feet are in line with your head.”
Hunter’s new soccer location will also make it easier for family and friends to come watch him play. Hunter anticipates the presence of a vocal contingent at BMO Field on October 8 when Toronto hosts the BC Lions.
Toronto picked Hunter in the first round, ninth overall, in the 2018 CFL draft from Bowling Green. But Hunter signed as a free agent who wasn’t drafted with Kansas City and was on the Chiefs’ active roster for their 31-20 Super Bowl win over the San Francisco 49ers on February 2, 2020 before being released before the ’20 campaign.
Hunter joined the Chargers on October 1, 2020 but was released last August.
“He brings that NFL experience,” Toronto head coach Ryan Dinwiddie said of Hunter. “He’s learned a lot about football (in the US), he’s learned how to be a professional and his professionalism can rub off in the O-line space.
“And he’s just a bad physical player. We’re looking forward to him getting in there and bringing some toughness to the O-line.”
But Dinwiddie said Hunter wouldn’t rush into Argos’ ranks.
“He took it (the Argos offense),” said Dinwiddie, who also serves as Toronto offensive coordinator. “He’s a sharp kid… he’s going to take it and we feel good about that.
“Is this week (hunters play) who knows? But we’ll get him on the pitch soon.”
Hunter brings a lot of versatility into Argos’ offensive forward, saying he spent time in all five offensive line positions during his NFL tenure. And it’s certainly a good thing for Toronto as Canadian tackle Shane Richards (quarters) doesn’t train Tuesday and center/guard Peter Nicastro, a Calgary native, remains on his six-game injury list with a knee disease.
Once Hunter got onto the field, he had to help protect Toronto passes as Argos had allowed 36 sacks, the third most in the CFL this season.
“It was great, I love it,” Toronto quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson, the CFL’s passing leader (3,672 yards) said of Hunter’s arrival. “He’s already picked up a foul and it’s great to have him.”
Toronto went with Canada’s four starting offensive linemen in last week’s 45-15 road win over Ottawa. Justin Lawrence was in the middle, Gregor Mackellar and Dariusz Bladek lined up as guards while Philip Blake and American Dejon Allen were tackles.
Hunter wasn’t worried about having to adjust to a third different team and city in four years. It was something he was very used to.
Hunter left North Bay to attend Canisius Buffalo High School. After a decorated career there – he was named Western New York’s top offensive midfielder and in 2012 shared The Buffalo News player of the year award – Hunter was awarded a scholarship to Bowling Green University in Ohio.
After changing to his first year shirt, Hunter played 52 games over the next four seasons, starting with right and left tackles and keeper. Hunter also excelled in class, earning an All-MAC academic award for four years before embarking on a professional career.
“At least he gives us good depth and you can never have enough depth,” Dinwiddie said. “He will make us a better football club, make our O-line better and that will help us offensively.”
Hunter also had no trouble adjusting to Canadian football and relishing the opportunity to pursue the Gray Cup title and earn another championship ring.
“You’ll never have enough,” he said with a laugh.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published September 27, 2022.
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