TORONTO – Matt Ware wasn’t ready to call it a career just yet.
For two years Ware worked as a personal trainer in California, waiting for another chance to play pro football. There were workouts and discussions with other clubs after being released by the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals prior to the 2011 season, but nothing concrete materialized.
That is until January, when the Toronto Argonauts came calling.
So instead of pursuing a job as a firefighter as planned, the 31-year-old is trying to kick-start his pro career in the CFL.
“I came here because I felt I had unfinished business,” Ware said following Thursday’s practice at York University. “I still have a love for the game and felt like I left (NFL) on bad terms.
The six-foot-three, 218-pound Ware played seven NFL seasons with Philadelphia and Arizona. He spent two years with the Eagles, who selected the former UCLA star in the third round, 89th overall, in the ’04 draft, before joining the Cardinals.
Ware played 95 career NFL games, his three starts all coming with Arizona. He recorded 115 tackles, one interception, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery while playing in two Super Bowls (’04 with Philadelphia, ’08 with Arizona).
But Ware wavered about wanting to return to the NFL.
“It’s all in the Lord’s hands,” he said. “If I come up here and do a great job, who’s to say I wouldn’t just stay here?
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to be an Argo.”
Ware was a two-sport athlete at UCLA and played two seasons of minor-league baseball with the Seattle Mariners’ organization.
Ware, a married father of two young daughters, played safety in the NFL but is working at cornerback with Toronto. A revamped Argos defence – only cornerback Jalil Carter remains from the ’12 Grey Cup-winning unit – has a definite need at corner with all-star Pat Watkins signing with the Edmonton Eskimos as a free agent.
Not only must Ware adjust to a new position but also a new team playing a different game with unlimited motion and an extra man on a longer, wider field. But first-year defensive co-ordinator Tim Burke said Thursday, so far so good.
“He’s done really well,” Burke said of Ware. “He’s a smart guy, he understands how to learn and be a professional.
“Rookies are up and down . . . I think having a guy like Matt is great for our defence.”
Argos head coach Scott Milanovich is also impressed with Ware’s veteran savvy.
“He strikes me as a very mature, veteran player who understands about preparation and all the little things we build our foundation on,” Milanovich said. “Physically, he’s a big, strong man who has good enough hips to play corner.
“He’s a little bit like the guy we had last year (Watkins) but different styles. He’s doing a nice job for us.”
And Ware is having fun making the transition to the wide-open, pass-happy Canadian game.
“There are so many moving parts,” he said. “It just keeps you really in tune with the game.
“Sometimes in the NFL you can go out there and just have your guy and it gets a little monotonous even though it’s a great challenge.”
Ware said a ringing endorsement of Toronto and the Argos from good friend Tyler Ebell – a former CFL running back with Edmonton, the Double Blue, B.C and Hamilton – certainly didn’t hurt his decision-making process.
“He told me about his experiences here and how much he loved it,” Ware said. “So I’m just excited to be here playing ball.”
A huge advantage Ware has over other CFL rookies is his pro experience. When everything seems to be happening all at once on the field, Ware has a solid knowledge base to fall back on.
“It’s still football,” he said. “No matter how the formation comes together or if six guys are all moving at once, it’s still football.
“You really have to stick to your technique and keys, what the coaches told you to do because if you start looking at too much then you’re going to mess yourself up. If you’re in man to man you’ve got to work your feet, look at the hips and guard your guy. If you have zone coverage, you need to see the big picture.”