Strictly because of the origin of his birth certificate, a certain number of odds were already stacking up against Brett Maher when he arrived in Winnipeg in the summer of 2014.
Maher, with his playing days at Nebraska done and a couple of NFL looks not panning out, came north of the border in search of starting a professional football career in the Canadian Football League.
The CFL’s import ratio rules force teams to be strategic where they dress their Americans. On a game-day roster of 44, no more than 20 players can be of “international” designation. It’s not true in every case, but skill-position roster spots are largely populated by Americans while teams generally like to use roster spots for Canadians at positions like offensive line.
If a Canadian team can find a Canadian kid who can kick and punt, American challengers are on the outside looking in.
That was the environment Maher was thrown into when he played two pre-season games with Winnipeg in 2014 and was cut despite putting up good numbers as the Blue Bombers stayed with their Canadian incumbent, Lirim Hajrullahu.
Days later Maher was signed in Ottawa.
And then he was cut again.
But told he could stick around.
And then he won a five-kicker tryout to earn the full-time job in the Redblacks inaugural season in the CFL. If it sounds confusing, that’s because it kind of is.
The Kearney native has chosen to look at this road less travelled as a blessing.
“Canada’s been fantastic. It’s been quite a journey for myself and for my family, but it’s been all positive,” Maher said in a phone interview with Corn Nation from Ottawa last week. “Everywhere I’ve been has been a great stop along the way and it has taken me farther along in this journey. Not a lot of people to get to say they play professional sports at all let alone being in their fourth year.
“… I look at my start in Winnipeg and it was really a short stay but it was a great experience and I’m glad that I had that. It taught me a lot about the game and about myself as a person and professionally and things that I needed to do different to take myself to the next level.”
The Coles Notes – that’s Canadian for Cliffs Notes – version of Maher’s story is he went from Nebraska to Winnipeg to Ottawa to Hamilton to Ottawa, his second stint coming after he voluntarily left Hamilton for a shot at an NFL gig in Cleveland. When that didn’t work out, Maher found his first full-time home in Canada was open for a reunion.
And don’t forget about the hip surgery and rehab in 2015.
All of this is to say and attempt to adequately paint the precarious roadmap that Maher has navigated en route to a full-time professional career in Canada. Maher, however, doesn’t see it that way.
“It’s hard to crack a roster no matter where you are. Whether that’s up in Canada or in the NFL or whether you’re an import or a non-import, it’s hard to make a team, it’s hard to make a living doing what we’re doing,” Maher said. “I don’t really use that necessarily for my motivation or think of it that way. I’m just out there every day trying to get a little bit better and do the things that I can control and, at the end of the day, that decision isn’t in my hands, so I try not to lose any sleep over how the process of that stuff works.”
The CFL has its quirks, and Maher said wider hashmarks and a speedier-paced game – three downs and shorter play clocks – have been among the most noticeable items to adjust to.
And Maher has adjusted just fine. Last season he went 41 of 50 on field goals and this year he is 22 of 25 thus far, with two of those misses coming from 50-plus yards, one of them from 58 early in the season.
He’s also been able to reunite with a former Husker teammate in Jonathan Rose, now a starting cornerback in Ottawa. Rose and Maher’s college careers briefly overlapped in Lincoln when Maher was a senior in 2012. The Redblacks also have running backs coach Beau Walker, who spent last year as a graduate assistant at Nebraska.
“He’s a great kid, a great professional and obviously really good at what he does,” Maher said. “It’s nice to kinda share that friendship past professional football and we both kinda understand where both is coming from.”
Maher is raising his family in the off-season back in Lincoln, where he says he continues to do the bulk of his training.
Given all that he’s been through, Maher has already lived a full professional life. He’s trying to stay in the moment and appreciate it for all that it provides, no matter what twist or turn may be around the next corner.
“It’s been a crazy ride, and a fun ride, and one that I hope doesn’t end for a while,” Maher said. “That’s the thing about our business is you never know when the last day is, so you’ve really got to embrace the moment that you’re in and the relationships that you have.”
Ottawa 37, Hamilton 18
Facing his former team, Maher scored Ottawa’s first 15 points and went 6-for-6 with a long of 52, all coming in the first half as the Redblacks improved to 2-6-1 on the year. He also had five punts for a 44.2 average, maintaining his position at the top of the CFL in that category. Rose had one tackle in his return to the starting lineup after a one-game demotion.
In a down year for the East Division, the Redblacks stand just one game back of second-place Toronto.
Calgary 21, B.C. 17
Ciante Evans had his second interception of the season, tying his total from last year, and added a tackle for Calgary.
Winnipeg 33, Edmonton 26
The Blue Bombers offensive line, with Jermarcus Hardrick starting at right tackle, broke open hole after hole as Winnipeg handed the Eskimos their first loss of the season. The Bombers rushed for 170 yards total on 22 carries, with starting running back Andrew Harris running 11 times for 105 yards. Harris also had 120 yards receiving, becoming just the ninth player in the past 22 years to have a 100-100 game.
The Eskimos, who started the season 7-0, have former Husker Barron Miles as defensive backs coach.
Canadians for Nebraska is a group of Husker fans in Canada not affiliated with the University of Nebraska. It can be found on Twitter @CdnsForNebraska.