Well, if you’re one of the people calling for Marc Liegghio to lose his kicking job, you should at least familiarize yourself with the only other option the Blue Bombers have at the moment.

Well, if you’re one of the people calling for Marc Liegghio to lose his kicking job, you should at least familiarize yourself with the only other option the Blue Bombers have at the moment.

Meet Ali Mourtada, a 31-year-old from Foxboro, Mass., out of Pace University in New York City.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>New guy Ali Mourtada showed his stuff for the first time.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

New guy Ali Mourtada showed his stuff for the first time.

Mourtada was signed by the Blue and Gold on Aug. 30 and was on the field with his new team at Tuesday’s practice after completing quarantine.

It’s been a long journey to the CFL for him. Mourtada was most recently with the Massachusetts Pirates of the Indoor Football League where he connected on seven of 17 field goal attempts (the goal posts are half as wide as the uprights in outdoor football). Prior to that, Mourtada spent some time in the Arena Football League, attended a Washington Football Team mini-camp, and was invited to several XFL tryouts.

"It’s been a grind and a roller-coaster, but for me, it was focusing on what I can control and that was developing as an athlete, as a kicker, and as a pro," Mourtada told reporters in his first media availability on Tuesday.

"... I was just committed to it and it helped me get here so I’m just thankful for that."

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Winnipeg Blue Bombers Ali Mourtada during practice at IG Field Tuesday morning.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg Blue Bombers Ali Mourtada during practice at IG Field Tuesday morning.

Mourtada worked as a personal trainer as he chased his professional football dream, but what kept him going despite having a tough time all these years?

"If I was the last person on earth, I’d still be kicking," he said.

Mourtada, who was born in Sierra Leone but moved to the United States at a young age, said he’s confident from 60-63 yards out under ideal kicking conditions. There’s no guarantee he’ll ever get to play, but if Liegghio doesn’t turn things around, Mourtada might just get a chance to show off that big leg of his soon.

"It’s a great opportunity. The team has welcomed me in as family. But from there, it’s a day by day process. Stay in the routine, and if an opportunity presents itself, just be ready to go," Mourtada said.

Liegghio, who also handles punting duties, was the hero in Week 4 after drilling all four of his field goal attempts, including the game-winner, against the Calgary Stampeders, but the 24-year-old rookie has been shaky since. Liegghio made only one of four field tries in two games against the Saskatchewan Roughriders and didn’t fare much better on extra points.

Despite the struggles, head coach Mike O’Shea won’t admit to having doubt in Liegghio. The Western University product made 92 per cent of his kicks as a senior in 2019, something O’Shea consistently brings up when questioned about the Canadian. Liegghio took on place-kicking duties after Week 3 when veteran Tyler Crapigna was placed on the six-game injured list with a hamstring issue.

"Obviously, he’s going to continue working on his game and process. If you look at historically how he’s been in (U Sports), he was absolutely phenomenal. So, I imagine he’ll get back to that. I really do," O’Shea said.

As for Mourtada, O’Shea has liked what he’s seen so far and gave him credit for refusing to quit on his goal of playing at a high level.

"Paul Osbaldiston got cut a few times before he ever kicked his first, right? Mike Vanderjagt, same thing," said O’Shea.

"It takes a while to get your opportunity, some guys longer than others. He’s managed to stay in it long enough to get another one which is admirable, for sure."

The potential for a heartwarming story with Mourtada is there, but on paper, the decision to bring in a guy at his age who has had very little success as a pro is a bit of a head scratcher. Mourtada’s university numbers aren’t all that impressive either — he made seven of 15 kicks in his final two seasons at Pace.

"There really isn’t as many (available kickers) as you may think," O’Shea said.

"There’s lots of guys with a K beside their name and it’s whether or not you think they can do it. He was a guy that came with high praise from people that know what we’re looking for. We’ve liked what we’ve seen and it was worth bringing him in."

taylor.allen@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @TaylorAllen31

Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen
Reporter

Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.

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