After more than two decades in the CFL, Paul McCallum has finally become a specialist.
McCallum, entering his 22nd CFL season, will focus on field goals in 2014 with the B.C. Lions, who signed him to a two-year contract Thursday. He has previously held all three kicking duties - kickoffs, punts and three-point efforts.
But the reduction in responsibilities will not necessarily translate into a sign of his impending retirement at the conclusion of the season.
"I'm not looking at it like this is my last year, because I really don't understand how people do that," said McCallum. "For me, just looking at this year, this season, is what I'm going to concentrate on, and then I'll look at it. I'm not saying this is my last year. I'm saying this is the year that I'm going to concentrate on."
McCallum, a 44-year-old Surrey, B.C., product, signed on for a 10th season with the Lions. He has also played for the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Ottawa Rough Riders.
The Lions also announced the signing of kicker Ricky Schmitt, who was a member of Saskatchewan's Grey Cup-champion team in 2013. Schmitt, a 28-year-old Virginia Beach, Va., native, who is entering his second full CFL season, will take over McCallum's former punting and kick-off duties.
"The reduced role, I think, is a positive thing for the club, especially with the fact that (Schmitt) is here," said McCallum. "Schmitt has got, probably, the strongest leg in the league for punting and kickoffs. So, for me, I think that's a benefit for the club. So I only look at it as a positive, not a negative."
Lions head coach Mike Benevides attempted to limit McCallum's duties, and the wear and tear on his right leg last season by placing the since-departed Hugh O'Neill on the active roster at the start of the campaign. O'Neill, who had spent the previous two years on the Lions' practice roster without getting into a regular-season game, handled all three duties in the pre-season and early in the regular season while McCallum was sidelined with a groin injury.
Once McCallum returned, O'Neill was assigned kickoff responsibilities, but it was difficult for the Lions to balance two Canadian kickers on the active roster with the ratio of imports and non-imports. O'Neill fell out of favour and was released in mid-season because he would not agree to a contract extension. Lions general manager Wally Buono was also not satisfied with his progress after three seasons in the organization. O'Neill quickly signed with Edmonton and remains with the Eskimos.
Upon releasing O'Neill, the Lions brought back Steven Shott after cutting him in the pre-season. Shott, a 24-year-old Vancouver native, remains on the B.C. roster as a long-term prospect. But it's anyone's guess on when he or Schmitt will challenge McCallum for the full-time position booting field goals.
"I think last year was a bit of a different situation," said McCallum. "I could understand the direction the club wanted to take last year, and I was willing to [accept] that last year. But last year, my thought process was that I wanted to compete for the job still. Now? No, I don't want to compete for that job. There is no real competition as far as leg strength goes."
McCallum is a two-time CFL all-star (2010, 2011) and took home the league's most outstanding special teams player in 2011, when he connected on 50 of 53 field-goal attempts. He is one of just five players in the CFL or NFL to play in 20 or more seasons, and ranks as the only CFL kicker to record 10 or more consecutive seasons with a field goal success rate of 80 per cent or better.
"I have, believe it or not, as a kicker, looked after my body," said McCallum. "Kicking is a mental game. So the whole aspect of going out and competing, I still have it there. It's not what it was when I first started playing, but I still believe that I still have enough leg strength to kick the important field goals at 50-yard-line."
McCallum kicked 28 field goals on 33 attempts in 2013, with the longest coming from 47 yards. But Schmitt holds a distinct advantage in the punting department.
He posted a 45-yard net average last season with the Roughriders on 136 attempts, and his punts are known for their long hang time. McCallum's career average net punting yardage is 41.4.
McCallum pledged to mentor Schmitt and Shott if they seek his advice.
"I think I've proven over the years that I'm a team guy," said McCallum. "So if whoever's there is going to need some help, then I'm willing to do that."
Schmitt said he hopes to learn as much as he can from the veteran while helping both lead the league in every kicking statistical category. The former Roughrider attributed his departure from Saskatchewan to the CFL's import and non-import ratio after the first phase of free agency.
"They lost a bunch of good Americans [at other positions]," said Schmitt, who played collegiately for NCAA Division II squad Shepherd in West Virginia and had could not stick with five NFL clubs. "We were in contract discussions but, ultimately, it just came down to the nature of the business."
When asked if he wants to kick field goals for B.C. eventually, Schmitt, who handled all of his team's kicking duties in college, said he is willing to do whatever team asks.
"I know that [McCallum] is going to be doing the field goals for as long as he can," said Schmitt.