Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Blue sign son of a legend

Is Brett Cameron the next great punter in Winnipeg club history?

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Brett CAMERON walked into the Winnipeg Blue Bombers offices on Wednesday, a man on his own mission, but he looked up to see a familiar face watching from the wall.

Yeah, there was the framed photo of his father, Bob Cameron, who played 23 seasons for the Bombers and remains the CFL's all-time leader in punting yardage. Then Brett signed on the dotted line, and when the ink was dry, the Bombers announced the news: They had signed the 22-year-old punter, who graduated from the University of North Dakota in December, to his first pro deal. "It's obviously something I've been dreaming about since I was a little kid," Cameron said.

 

Growing up the son of a Bomber punting legend set the stage for Cameron's future in the sport, no doubt. As a lad, he challenged Milt Stegall to sprints on the practice field. He watched as the Bombers went to the Grey Cup in 2001, the second-last season of his dad's Hall of Fame career.

These experiences were given to him, and maybe he inherited a leg that could kick. Everything else was work. There were so many early mornings at the gym, adding strength to what is now a 6-1, 194-pound frame; there were so many sticky summer days kicking footballs behind Churchill High School, when all the other kids were lounging on the beach or sleeping in late.

"I said to him, 'Do you see anybody else in those fields kicking the ball around? No,' " Bob Cameron recalled telling his son, the eldest of his four children with wife Louise. "Brett, when he puts his mind to it, he gives it everything he's got, in everything he does. The guy is way more dedicated and hardworking at his craft than I ever was at his age."

Let the numbers bear that parental scouting report out: Cameron was a starter for three of his four years at UND, and finished with a career punting average of 40.6 -- the second-best in school history. He had 30 punts of 50 yards or longer, and booted a 65-yard punt during his sophomore year.

Those are nice cap-feathers for a kid who came to the punting position a little reluctantly; as a teen at St. Paul's High School, Cameron started by playing quarterback and kicker. It was the comparison issue, you understand.

"I didn't want to punt, because I didn't want to be just like my dad," he said.

But the team needed a punter, so Cameron agreed: by Grade 12, he was pretty darn good at it, having punted well for the provincial under-17 team. It meant opportunity. "(Punting) was something that I could move forward, and would help get me a scholarship," he said. "That was always my main goal, to go to the States and play college football."

Now, having earned his biology degree from UND, Cameron finds himself launched into the next big challenge: Battling for a job against the Bombers all-star punter Mike Renaud, who he's gotten to know over the last few years.

"There's a lot I can learn from him," Cameron said. "I'm just wanting to get better and compete."

To give himself the best shot, he's heading to Arizona soon to train one-on-one with former NFL coach Gary Zauner, who helped shape NFL kicking greats Gary Anderson and Matt Stover. Nonetheless, the realities of cracking the roster are what they are.

"To try to unseat veteran players is very difficult," Bob Cameron said. "It's pressure, it's professional sports. At the same time, he's got an opportunity, and he's going to make the best of it. I've watched him develop. He can compete, there's no question. And that's what the Bombers want at every position."

A player can't inherit that desire, the drive to compete. Nor can they have it pushed on them, though some people assume with the Camerons, that must be the case. It wasn't. "People say, 'Oh, your dad must have been all over you, getting you to kick.' That's the furthest thing," Brett said. "His message has just always been work hard... He's a great role model and someone to look up to, but I don't want any comparisons."

In other words: that moment when Bombers training camp opens, he'll just be another Winnipeg kid playing for a future in the league, and for the love of the game.

"The experience and the pressure you feel in the game can't be matched in anything else," Bob Cameron said. "Once you've had a taste of it, you always want more."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 7, 2013 D4

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