The first thing you notice about rookie Winnipeg Blue Bombers kicker Marc Liegghio is he looks nothing like a kicker. In fact, while just 5-7, the 24-year-old Liegghio weighs in at 189 pounds, possessing the kind of hulking chest more often seen on a linebacker.
But while hitting may be part of his role from time to time — he admits building up his stocky stature is, in part, to do with possibly preventing a returner from scoring — the Bombers care more about his legs and, most importantly, what they could mean to the team’s immediate future.
It’s fitting then that the former Western University standout goes by "Legs", a nickname he picked up at a young age and has solidified over his kicking career.
"Kickers (are usually not) very big guys and I know when I walked in here everyone couldn’t really tell what position I was playing at first. I take that as a compliment," Liegghio said following Day 2 of training camp Sunday.
"You put the hard work in on the field and you put the hard work in at the gym, just to make you feel like a full-on football player. You are a kicker and a punter, but in the end you are a football player."
That should be music to the ears of Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea, who continues to eat, breathe and sleep the game years after the conclusion of his Canadian Football Hall of Fame career. O’Shea has been singing the praises of Liegghio since the Bombers grabbed him in the fifth round, 39th overall, in the 2020 CFL Draft.
"We’re still getting to know each other, that’s for sure. But obviously he’s got the temperament to do it," O’Shea said. "To have that kind of success he had in university would tell me that he’s got the temperament to do it."
In four seasons with the Mustangs, Liegghio was named a U Sports and OUA conference all-star one year and, in 2019, was a U Sports first-team all-star as both a place kicker and punter. He connected on 70-of-78 field goals in this final three years with the Mustangs, for an efficiency rate of 89.7 per cent, and is well versed in a variety of punts that should keep return units on their toes.
If you’re wondering just how honoured Liegghio is for the chance to mould a professional career in Winnipeg, you have to go back to draft day. Upon hearing his name called, he was so overwhelmed that when O’Shea called to welcome him to the team the only words he could muster were "thank you," which he repeated over and over as tears ran down his face.
“It’s my first pro training camp but it feels great being out here, knowing that they’ve got the confidence in me to be the guy.” ‐ Marc Liegghio
Worried about the impression he had left, he called O’Shea the next day to have a more detailed chat. The two discussed him coming to camp that summer, with the chance to work with Justin Medlock, one of the best to ever to kick in the CFL.
Those plans would never materialize, however, with the 2020 season cancelled owing to COVID-19 and Medlock deciding to step away from the game, likely for good. That leaves Liegghio the lone kicker in camp.
The lack of competition signifies just how confident the Bombers are in him and the absence of Medlock provides a reminder of the large shoes to be filled. But Liegghio isn’t worried about who came before him, even if he was looking forward to learning from one of the best.
"There are not many nerves," he said. "It’s my first pro training camp but it feels great being out here, knowing that they’ve got the confidence in me to be the guy."
Liegghio will be responsible for all kicking duties, the same as Medlock. When asked about his field goal range, he said he was extremely comfortable with anything short of 50 yards but is capable of much more. In a relaxed workout over the off-season, he kicked a 67-yarder.
To adjust to the pro level, while taking the effects of a recent week-long quarantine into consideration, the plan is ease Liegghio into his new surroundings. He focused Saturday on simply receiving snaps from new long snapper Mike Benson — a relationship Liegghio said is already off to a brilliant start – and Sunday began executing directional punts on the soccer field parallel to where the rest of the team is practising.
There will be a lot to do over the next three weeks as Liegghio prepares for the bright lights of the season-opener at home on Aug. 5. It will be the first time he’s ever attempted a punt or field goal at the professional level. It’s something he looks forward to doing a lot of this season.
"It’s just a confidence in knowing the competitive edge that I have. I always want to be better than who I’m playing and who I know I’m up against," he said.
"I want to bring that mentality here too. It’s a pro environment and there’s a lot more pressures out there, like full stadiums. That stuff is just noise and when the ball is snapped, I’m just there to do my job and get the three points or punt the ball where I need to."
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.