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Sophomore receiver Spencer anxious to take advantage of opportunity with Argos

Toronto Argonauts' Diontae Spencer (85) hauls in the touchdown pass against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the first half of CFL action in Winnipeg on August 14, 2015. Opportunity is knocking for Diontae Spencer. When the sophomore receiver reports to the Toronto Argonauts' training camp later this month, he'll get every opportunity to replace veteran slotback Chad Owens in the starting lineup. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
May 06, 2016 - 1:27 PM

TORONTO - Opportunity is knocking for Diontae Spencer.

When the Toronto Argonauts open training camp, the sophomore receiver will get every opportunity to replace veteran slotback Chad Owens. The former CFL MVP spent six seasons with the Argos before joining the Hamilton Tiger-Cats as an off-season free agent.

"It's a loss, Chad was a veteran who helped many guys," Spencer said. "But it's business.

"We have a solid group of guys in our receiver room . . . we're like brothers and if I'm struggling they're going to be there to pick me up and help me out. The opportunity is there, I just have to take advantage of it."

The Argos won't have to wait long to see Owens. They open BMO Field on June 23 hosting Hamilton.

The five-foot-eight, 163-pound Spencer made an impact last season, his first in the CFL. He appeared in 10 games —seven starts — registering 36 catches for 502 yards (13.9-yard average) and three TDs while compiling a team-high 1,146 all-purpose yards.

With Owens (five games) and veteran slotback Andre Durie (16 games) both missing time with injuries, it allowed youngsters like Spencer to shine. He was part of a young receiving corps that featured Vidal Hazelton (70 catches, team-high 803 yards, six TDs), Tori Gurley (58 catches, 791 yards, team-best 10 TDs), Anthony Coombs (47 catches, 486 yards, one TD) and Kevin Elliott (50 catches, 642 yards, eight TDs).

Spencer had a team-high eight catches for 86 yards in Toronto's 25-22 East Division semifinal loss to Hamilton. He said adjusting to Canadian football wasn't as difficult as some told him it would be.

"The rules are different but at the end of the day it's football," he said. "Basically it boils down to scoring touchdowns, catching the ball and just competing.

"Missing eight games last year I was able to see a lot and learn a lot that hopefully I can use to take the next step."

One adjustment Spencer had some difficulty with was the unlimited motion permitted on offence, which allows receivers to get a running start before the snap.

"At first I really didn't like it," he said. "It's still something I'm adjusting to but it does create an advantage for me."

So too should the return of a healthy Ricky Ray. The 14-year veteran quarterback missed Toronto's first 15 regular-season games recovering from off-season shoulder surgery but started the playoff loss to Hamilton.

"(Ray's return) is very important," Spencer said. "I feel like if we do what we need to do and take responsibility as a receiving corps, Ricky is going to be Ricky.

"That's the whole thing this year, doing what we need to do."

Toronto has a new home stadium after last year scheduling conflicts at Rogers Centre forced it to play four home dates on the road. Despite that, the Argos posted a 10-8 record to finish third in the East.

"Knowing we have a home field is huge," Spencer said. "We got a little glimpse of (BMO Field) on Thursday and it'll be something great for our fans to interact with us more on gameday and have a place to call home.

"Last year, we didn't know if we were playing here or if something was going to get moved around . . . but our mentality was it didn't matter where we played or who we played, we were going to show up. Dealing with that last year, it's kind of comforting to know we have a new home."

And Spencer can't think of a better way to open BMO Field than by facing the Ticats.

"Yeah, looking forward to that," he said with a smile. "We went out on a bad note last year, we didn't beat them at all.

"It's Hamilton, it's understood it's a rivalry. I'm looking forward to seeing them again."

But more important to Argos players is BMO Field will host the 2016 Grey Cup game. Toronto hoisted the hallowed trophy the last time the game was played here (2012 at Rogers Centre).

And for Spencer, that would be the ideal way for the Argos to reward their new owners — Bell and Larry Tanenbaum, the chairman of Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment — for creating stability in the CFL's biggest market.

"That's what it's about: Creating an experience that you want to play football, you want to go out every day and work to bring a Grey Cup to this city," Spencer said. "I feel like everybody is doing that here top to bottom.

"I'm excited to be part of the organization. I'm ready."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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