Owens: 'This is for real this week'
OAKVILLE — Chad Owens is putting his fledgling mixed martial arts career on hold.
The Toronto Argonauts receiver/kick-returner signed a two-year contract extension with the CFL club Tuesday and said he won’t return to the Octagon during the course of his new deal.
“I’m not going to jeopardize what they’ve honoured me with and given me,” Owens said following Tuesday’s practice. “As far as MMA training, I’m still going to do some of those things … because of the cardio and it’s fun.
“As far as stepping into the Octagon and fighting, I can’t do that.”
Toronto also added former longtime kicker-punter Noel Prefontaine to the practice roster behind incumbent Swayze Waters.
Owens, 31, was the CFL’s outstanding player last season after posting a league-record 3,863 all-purpose yards and leading it in receiving (94 catches, 1,328 yards, six TDs). The native of Hawaii capped the 2012 campaign in style, helping Toronto win the historic 100th Grey Cup game at Rogers Centre.
He was entering the option year of his previous agreement and would’ve become a free agent in February 2014. Owens raised eyebrows last April when he participated in his inaugural MMA event in Hawaii, winning his match.
There was nothing in Owens’ CFL deal preventing from fighting but his decision was initially criticized by the Argos management, including general manager Jim Barker. But Barker wouldn’t say whether provisions preventing Owens from participating in MMA events were part of the new deal.
“I’m not going to comment about what’s in the contract,” Barker said. “In the end he got more than we wanted to give him and he didn’t get as much as he wanted, that’s the way negotiations go, it was very professional.
“We want Chad to be here. He’s a big part of what our brand has become and we’re excited about his commitment to us.”
Toronto acquired Owens from Montreal on June 23, 2010 for a 2011 fourth-round draft pick. Owens joined the Argos as a relative unknown as he made just one appearance with the Alouettes in 2009, returning two kickoffs for 80 yards and registering a reception for 10 yards.
But the speedy Owens wasted no time becoming a fan favourite in Toronto.
He brought fans to their feet with his electrifying kick returns, earning the CFL’s top special-teams player awards in 2010 and 2011. Last season, Owens became the first player in league history to finish first in receiving yards and kick-return yards (2,418) and he broke former Toronto star Mike (Pinball) Clemons’ all-purpose yards mark of 3,862.
Owens remains a dangerous special-teams weapon but now is a dual threat, having steadily improved his receiving numbers in each of his three seasons with Toronto.
After being named a CFL all-star as a returner in 2010 and ’11, Owens made the squad as a receiver in 2012. And unfortunately for rival defences, Owens and Argos quarterback Ricky Ray both return in 2013 to help Toronto defend its Grey Cup title.
“We definitely feel confident in what we’re doing,” Owens said. “Last year, we were trying to find each other, get a feel for one another and gel in a new offence, new guys, new quarterback, receivers and it’s hard to find that mesh.
“But we found that towards the end last year and it rolled right into the Grey Cup. From Day 1 in training camp we came out and had a phenomenal practice like we never skipped a beat and I know that was very motivating for us and the coaches.”
And Owens, for one, can’t wait for the 2013 season. Toronto begins its title defence Friday night at Rogers Centre hosting its arch rival, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
“This is for real this week,” he said. “This is where points matter.”
Unfortunately for Prefontaine, he won’t suit up against Hamilton because as a practice-roster player he only works out with the Argos and doesn’t dress for games.
Prefontaine, 39, is back with Toronto as an insurance policy should Waters struggle or be injured. Prefontaine was limited to seven regular-season games in 2012 after being forced to undergo major hip surgery last summer.
The five-foot-11, 205-pound Prefontaine returned earlier than expected to help the Argos win the Grey Cup but was released less than a month later. Pain-free for the first time in years, Prefontaine remains convinced he can still play well but with a current job and young family — he’s the married father of two young boys with a third child on the way — Prefontaine said remaining in Toronto is his best option.
Prefontaine is entering his 16th CFL season, 13th with Toronto.
“Swayze is obviously the guy here and I’m here more as a support person for him and the other guys playing special teams,” Prefontaine said. “I have a great deal of CFL experience and I’m just going to try and show as much as I can with the guys who’ve made this team and the guys that have been here for a while.
“This is where my family is, this is where my home is. I had some opportunities but for me the best scenario was to be back with the Argos.”