Brandon Banks has a tough act to follow.
The five-foot-seven, 153-lb. receiver/kick-returner is the reason why Hamilton will host Montreal in the East Division semifinal Sunday in Guelph, Ont. On Oct. 26, Banks returned a missed field goal 107 yards for the decisive TD in a thrilling 27-24 home win over the Alouettes.
The victory earned Hamilton (10-8) second in the East and home-field advantage in a playoff rematch with Montreal (8-10). Banks, who joined the Ticats on Sept. 30, also had a 45-yard TD run earlier in the contest.
Suffice to say, Banks isn't heading into the CFL playoffs under the radar.
"That's cool, that's part of football," he said. "They still have to go out there and execute and stop me or whoever is getting the ball.
"I dream about (making big returns with game on the line) every week and hopefully I can make a difference. I'm going to try. I want the ball in my hands and be able to go the distance at any moment."
Banks has been a versatile performer for Hamilton.
Offensively, he has nine catches for 95 yards and six carries for 60 yards and a TD. He has also returned punts (17 for 107 yards) and kickoffs (14 kickoffs for 319 yards).
Given his diminutive stature, it's no surprise Banks' forte is speed. In 2006, USA Today named the native of Garner, N.C., to its all-USA high school track team after he posted a 100-metre time of 10.42 seconds. And at Kansas State, Banks returned five kickoffs for TDs.
Invariably the conversation always seems to revert back to Banks' compact stature, but the 25-year-old is very comfortable in his own skin.
"It's kind of normal now," he said. "I've been going through it since I was little, it's a normal question for me."
"Actually, when I was younger, I should say," Banks said before bursting out in laughter.
Banks joined the Washington Redskins in 2010 as an undrafted free agent. He appeared in 41 games over three seasons, registering 119 kickoff returns for 2,856 yards and TD, 100 punt returns for 937 yards and 11 career receptions.
But ball security was an issue as Banks had 12 career special-teams fumbles and another as a receiver. Banks was inactive for Washington's final four regular-season games last year and became an unrestricted free agent in March when the Redskins didn't tender him an offer as a restricted free agent.
Filling a void
Banks certainly filled a need for Hamilton, which had been in the market for an explosive returner after rookie Lindsey Lamar suffered a concussion earlier this season. Former Ticats star Chris Williams was the CFL's top special-teams player last year but became embroiled in a contract impasse with the club and never reported, eventually being allowed to join the NFL's New Orleans Saints.
'Speed kills in the game of football.' —Brandon Banks, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
"I like the situation I'm in right now," Banks said. "I think it's everybody's dream to be in the NFL but if this is the best place for me to be, I'd love to stay."
Banks' skillset is tailor-made for the longer, wider Canadian field. Special-teams play is crucial in three-down football because not only can it result in game-winning returns but result in teams getting very good field position to start drives.
"Being elusive, fast and quick . . . I definitely try to use those to my advantage," Banks said. "Speed kills in the game of football.
"Special-teams here are very important because they're a third of the game and you can average 20-some plays on special teams per game. I'm trying to use the wider field and not being able to call for a fair catch to my advantage. I base my skills on doing a lot of eluding and trying to run by guys."
Teams face off for third time since Sept. 21
Banks' return TD gave Hamilton the season series with Montreal for the first time since '02. The Ticats have reached the East Division final once since then, that coming in '11 when they lost 19-3 in Winnipeg.
The Ticats last won the Grey Cup in '99, beating Calgary 32-21 at B.C. Place under late coach Ron Lancaster. But Banks' focus now remains squarely on a Montreal team Hamilton will face for the third time since Sept 21.
"Of course, you want to take care of home and don't want to lose at home but I think there's pressure on both teams," Banks said. "Win or go home, right?
"It will come down to execution. I think the team that has the fewest penalties in the game will win."