Adrian Tracy isn't finished chasing down CFL quarterbacks just yet.
The veteran defensive lineman retired last season, mostly due to the uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Tracy said Wednesday he's anxious to resume his football career and continue making an impact, on and off the field, with a franchise.
"I didn't walk away from the game because I thought I couldn't play anymore or I didn't have anything else to give," Tracy said during a telephone interview. "It was a personal decision based upon the inconsistencies I saw.
"Honestly, that itch and desire never left."
For Tracy, the time was right to step away from football. In addition to the global pandemic, he'd gotten married and retirement allowed him to support his wife, Kayla-Marie, a reporter with CP24 in Toronto.
But now with the blessing of his wife, who's expecting the couple's first child -- a daughter -- any time now, Tracy is ready to resume playing football.
"Everybody says football players and other individuals are warriors but I've seen one of the greatest super heroes of my life in my wife," Tracy said. "She's definitely been a role model for me in that regard and having a daughter will definitely soften my heart to things I wasn't aware of before."
A year away from the wear-and-tear of a season hasn't hurt Tracy physically. Tracy, who graduated from William & Mary with his kinesiology degree, said training full-time at Cornell Performance Academy -- a facility in Hamilton owned by former CFL player Michael Cornell -- has prepared him for the rigours of football.
"When I started training there, the one thing I didn't want to have was any reservations," he said. "Having an off-season where I could literally go in and throw weight around like I used to, it was great stress relief and great therapy but it was also confirmation my body is more than ready."
Tracy, 34, hasn't spoken with any CFL teams as he continues to work on securing an agent, although he's not opposed to representing himself. With free agency slated to open Feb. 8, he's intent on letting GMs know he's available and all in.
"Age is nothing but a number," he said. "Although many people see that as a negative, veteran leadership and a championship pedigree can only be cultivated through experience and time.
"I think (year away) validated how much more I have to give, and that's not even from the standpoint of being on the field, although that's important. What I really missed was the locker room.
"Guys still came to my house last season just to keep what we have as a brotherhood going. That was kind of the spark that continued to ignite my passion to get back on the field and work towards a goal. I know hard work isn't easy but in my mind it's nothing more than putting one foot ahead of the other. It's a path I'm willing to walk."
The six-foot-three, 248-pound Tracy played five seasons with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (2015-19) before signing with the Montreal Alouettes in 2020. However, he never played in Quebec as the CFL cancelled the '20 season.
The CFL resumed play in 2021 with a shortened 14-game regular season. It ended with Winnipeg's 33-25 overtime win over Hamilton at Tim Hortons Field on Dec. 12 for the Blue Bombers' second straight Grey Cup title.
Tracy, from Fairfax, Va., began his career with the New York Giants (2010-13) after going in the sixth round of the ’10 NFL draft. He earned a Super Bowl ring with the club in 2012 and signed with the Arizona Cardinals in February 2014 before being released Aug. 30.
Tracy started 44-of-58 career games with Hamilton, registering 131 tackles, 21 sacks, two interceptions and five forced fumbles. He played eight games in 2019 due to a torn triceps and could only watch the Ticats drop a 33-12 Grey Cup decision to Winnipeg.
But Tracy will never forget that season, thanks to Hamilton defensive co-ordinator Mark Washington.
"It hurt with everything inside of me being unable to contribute," Tracy said. "I was on the field before the (Grey Cup) game crying and I appreciated coach Washington consoling me and telling me that as much as I wanted to contribute, I was as much a part of the team as anyone else.
"To hear that from someone who was a player in this league and is a well-respected coach, that was a memory and moment I didn't forget."
Tracy's decision to come out of retirement comes the same week Delvin Breaux Sr., an all-star cornerback with Hamilton, was reportedly doing so. Tracy also retired the same week Breaux decided to hang up his cleats.
The former teammates were able to get together during Grey Cup week.
"What I appreciate about Delvin is he's a genuine human being and an exceptional football player," Tracy said. "To have the conversation we had at Grey Cup, that was kind of the final sign for me that, 'OK, let's really get after this. Let's do this.'"
Both Tracy and Breaux are CFL free agents. Tracy said while he's open-minded regarding what team he plays for in 2022, a return to Hamilton would be special, especially since during Grey Cup many Ticats fans "suggested, and supported a return to the field, which I believe speaks to my commitment to the Hamilton community."
"If you're writing a fairy-tale story, being back in Hamilton would be amazing," he said. "But I do know it's a business and there are certain things that must fall into place to make that fairy tale a reality.
"But I feel I've literally experienced every perspective imaginable. I started on the practice roster when I came here and worked my way into a starting role. I've been on the (CFL Players Association) side, being injured I've been able to see some of the business aspects of an organization and I was a 'fan' this year not being associated with either a team or the PA. I feel my perspective has come full circle."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2022.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press