Local realtor Paul McCallum spent some time recently with Don Sweet, the BC Lions' kicking consultant and it may have paid off.
McCallum kicked four for four during the Lions' 34-8 victory over the Stampeders on Saturday night in Calgary.
But when McCallum lined up to kick the ball from the Eskimos' 44-yard line last Friday against Edmonton, most people assumed it would be for a field-goal attempt, not a punt.
Lions coach Mike Benevides suggested he hadn't lost faith in McCallum, whose 44-yard missed field goal July 14 against Saskatchewan was turned into a 128-yard touchdown by the Roughriders' Tristan Jackson.
"It was a 7-6 game at that point, and I was just playing the percentages," said Benevides, reflecting on that 27-14 loss to the Eskimos. "It was just to work the whole field position thing."
Subject as they are to scrutiny, it was another example of a coach habitually erring on the side of conservatism. But others read a deeper meaning into Benevides' decision. It was yet another pin prick in the aura of invincibility crafted last season by McCallum, who set a CFL record with only three misses in 53 field goal attempts. He has been wide three times in 12 kicks in 2012.
"Forty-four yards for Paul is a gimme," said Sweet, the Lions' kicking consultant. "He was kicking them from 57 in warm-up [for practice]."
The fact that Sweet twice paid a visit to the Surrey practice field last week was another indicator, by those who read the Lions' tea leaves, that McCallum is in need of extra counsel to get back on track.
"He was just hanging out," explained McCallum.
"He'd been away for a while and he just happened to be in the area. I pretty much know what I've doing wrong. I just have to correct it."
McCallum is in his 20th CFL season, but he admits there are times when he needs to reach out to a kindred spirit who understands the mind and mechanics of a kicker.
Sweet, a former Alouette and retired school administrator, held the Montreal team record for consecutive field goals of 21 until it was broken last year by one of pupils, Sean Whyte, McCallum's former understudy in B.C.
Whyte no longer avails himself of Sweet's tutelage, but another young Alouette kicker from the West Coast, Brody McKnight, has regular conversations with his swing coach.
In fact, Sweet has personal involvement with all three kickers in tonight's game - McCallum, Stampeders kicker Rene Paredes and Calgary punter Rob Maver.
"When you think about it, the best golfers in the world have swing coaches," McCallum said. "Tiger Woods has a swing coach. You always need somebody. It doesn't matter how old you are."
Paredes, a 27-year-old from Montreal, hooked up with Sweet at a kicking clinic he ran earlier this year at Queen's University and could be a reason why he has, um, found his sweet spot. The former Concordia Stinger has made nine of 10 field-goal attempts this season - his only miss coming from 52 yards - and he is a perfect four-for-four in the 40-45 yard range.
"I try to talk to Don once a week. I try to talk to him as much as I can," Paredes said. "He changed a lot of my mechanics. He makes me relax more. A lot of the credit goes to him."
Paredes joined the Stampeders on an emergency basis a year ago because of an injury to Maver, then the team's field goal kicker, and converted a 50-yard field goal against the Lions on his first attempt in the CFL.
"I did not want to put a young man in that position, for his first kick, on a new football team, as a rookie, but the situation called for it," said Stampeders head coach John Hufnagel. "He came through."
And now the Venezuelan-born Paredes - his surname means "wall" in Spanish - might be even more impregnable this season, fortified by Sweet's advice and sympathetic ear. "He changed my stance from last year. Now I feel more comfortable kicking the ball," Paredes said.
"I'm swinging with more ease. He made McCallum a better kicker, when he was well into his career. I hope he can do the same for me."
-Mike Beamish is a reporter with Vancouver Sun