THE B.C. Lions begin a critical home and home series against the Argonauts Friday in Toronto and North Vancouver's Spencer Watt will be there hoping to catch some of the action.
Growing up a Lions fan watching the likes of Paris Jackson and Geroy Simon perform, you'd think the Windsor secondary grad would be cheering on the Leos like any good B.C. boy would. But that's not the case at all - he'll be the one trying to put a dagger into B.C.'s up-and-down season.
Now in his second year as a receiver in the CFL, Watt is an emerging non-import star for the Argos who currently ranks fifth on the team in catches and yards.
He'll be in the starting lineup Friday at Rogers Centre as well as the return game Sept. 10, the final CFL game to be played at the temporary Empire Stadium before the Lions move back to BC Place.
"It's weird growing up watching the B.C. Lions and now I'm playing against them, at home," Watt told the North Shore News in a phone interview from Toronto Monday.
Both B.C. and Toronto have struggled to start the season and both are battling to stay out of the basement in their respective conferences while also working to stay ahead of each other in the event there is an opportunity to make the CFL's six-team playoffs as a crossover team.
"Any game that you win is crucial because the season is only 18 games. But in our current situation being 2-6 and B.C. being 2-6 also, if we can come out with two wins over top of B.C. it'll be a huge game changer."
The B.C. faithful will be out in full force for Empire's last game but there will be a sizeable section rooting for Watt too - at least 60 family and friends already bought tickets, said Watt, and that doesn't include his old North Vancouver Minor Hockey team that is having a reunion that weekend and planning to attend the game and throw a tailgate party in Watt's honour.
Watt grew up watching football at BC Place but the open-air magic of Empire made an impression on him when the Argos visited last year.
"I like the atmosphere at the stadium, I like how the fans are right close to the bench. . . . It's good to know that there's a lot of history behind that stadium even though it's not the actual Empire Stadium but the rebuilt one."
While Watt may know a bit about the history of the game here, he doesn't have a very long history of his own with the sport. Growing up playing hockey and basketball, Watt didn't try football until Grade 12 when a classmate told him the team needed another receiver. Watt showed up to practice and went on to help lead Windsor secondary to a AA provincial title.
After high school came an unsatisfying stint with Minot State University in North Dakota before he came back to B.C. to help turn Simon Fraser from a perennial loser into a championship contender. Though he didn't put up eye-popping stats at SFU the Argos liked what they saw from Watt at a scouting combine and made him a third round draft choice in the spring of 2010.
All of Watt's receiving yards combined from high school through university and into a year-and-a-half of pro football would not add up to the CFL single season record of 2,036 yards set by Allen Pitts. His lack of experience has made for a steep learning curve but Watt has taken it all in stride.
"Last year I came in as a rookie, didn't really get too much playing time but I worked my way up," he said. "This is a year really to judge how I play up against all these pros and see if I can hang with all these players. So far, so good - it could be a lot better but I'm young to the game."
Watt has already surpassed his reception and yardage totals from last season in just seven games this year but he still feels like he has a lot to learn.
"I still feel like a rookie," he said. "All of the other receivers still see me as like a rookie. There's always that room for improvement. I'm still young, I'm still looking to have that breakout game this year like I had last year. We'll see what happens."
The breakout game he's referring to was the last game of the 2010 regular season when Watt torched Montreal - who would go on to win the Grey Cup three weeks later - for six catches and 140 yards with two touchdowns.
"That's what I needed," said Watt. "I needed that for a confidence boost, I just needed it to see where I was at and if I could actually play and be a playmaker among all these other players. All these players are fast, they're quick, they're playmakers, they know the game."
His goal over the next few seasons is to establish himself as a go-to Canadian receiver who can be mentioned alongside other established stars such as Saskatchewan's Andy Fantuz - currently trying out for the Chicago Bears - and longtime Lions staple Paris Jackson, himself a North Vancouver product who is battling through injury and a lack of playing time this season.
"I want to establish myself as one of those top Canadian receivers but right now I've got a long way to go," he said, adding that he does not know Jackson personally but has appreciated the Carson Graham grad's game for a long time.
"I always used to watch him," he said. "It kind of inspires you to be a better player because you know that Canadian players can actually play in this CFL."
Watt, however, would like nothing more to sink the Lions further down the standings. The Argos play B.C. twice in a row followed by a matchup with Saskatchewan, the other Western team that is sitting near the bottom of the league.
"The three next games are really crucial, we're kind of taking it as playoffs," said Watt. If he and they Argos have their way they could have Lions fans shedding a few tears about more than just the end of the second Empire era.