HAMILTON, Ontario — Resting in his hospital bed last fall after his college football career ended with a broken collarbone, Lindsey Lamar wondered if his dreams of playing professional football were also over.
A big final season with USF would have made it difficult for NFL teams to ignore his talents.
But Lamar didn't play another game after being sidelined in the fourth quarter after running for a career-high 145 yards on Oct. 27 against Syracuse.
Eight months later, the 5-foot-9, 180-pounder from Hillsborough High known as "Lightning" has been lighting it up with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League. He has established himself as one of the most exciting young players in the early part of the season.
He scored touchdowns on punt returns in each of the Tiger-Cats' two preseason games, then had a sensational 104-yard kick return TD in their season-opening 39-34 loss to defending Grey Cup champion Toronto on June 28.
But on Sunday, Lamar found out how quickly a dream season can turn into a nightmare when he fumbled four returns, losing one. That miscue led to the winning TD a few plays later in Edmonton's 30-20 victory. It was an unexpected turn of events, especially after Lamar nearly returned another kick for a TD before being stopped after a 68-yard romp.
To be fair, soon after that return, heavy rain fell. But Lamar, who never fumbled four times in any game, conceded that as the fumbles continued, his confidence also took a beating.
"Punt returning is a mental thing. You have to have confidence and I need to get it back," said Lamar, who was named the league's special teams player of the week after his brilliant debut. "It's tough to deal with. It's frustrating. I have to be better."
Lamar didn't blame his troubles on the rain. "I'd be less than a man if I did," he said.
Lamar still remembers the physical and mental pain that ended his college career. His 145 yards against the Orange, including an 80-yard run, the second-longest in school history, gave him back-to-back 100-yard games and three TDs.
"Man, it was tough, laying in that hospital bed. I thought this might be it for me but something told me deep down inside to keep going," said Lamar, who at 22 is Hamilton's youngest player. "I could have had a great senior season. NFL scouts would come up to me and ask me why I had to get hurt. But I guess it was fate. It just wasn't meant to be. It was meant for me to be right here in Hamilton."
Lamar discovered he was on Hamilton's negotiation list after a less than spectacular NFL pro day camp. He signed about a month before training camp began in early June.
His signing couldn't have come at a better time for Tiger-Cat fans after All-Star kick return specialist/pass catcher Chris Williams refused to report to camp in a bid to get out of his contract so he could take a shot at the NFL.
Williams, now suspended, often was the entire offensive show last season, when he had 16 TDs, including a record six on kick returns, and 1,298 receiving yards. Hamilton still finished last in the league at 6-12.
Hamilton fans had no idea how explosive Lamar would be, though the team knew he was no stranger to the end zone. In 2010, he was named the Big East special teams player of the year when he had 1,101 all-purpose yards, 899 of them (and two touchdowns) on returns. That included a 100-yard kick return score against Louisville to tie a USF record. His two kick return scores also set a USF record.
In the CFL preseason, Lamar returned his first punt for an 88-yard touchdown against Montreal and followed that up with a 78-yard score in Hamilton's second game against Winnipeg.
"I didn't do it alone. It's an amazing feeling hitting the end zone," Lamar said, "When you see that last block. And then it's just you and the end zone in front of you. Man, that's a good feeling.
"Those three (scores) were hard but now it's going to be even harder for me because I know teams are going to be locking in on me. But that's why we play. You play to be great and do everything right."
Though he's primarily a kick return specialist for Hamilton, Lamar is also seeing some action at running back with starter Chevon Walker sidelined with an injury.
"I'll be just satisfied to help my team any way I can," said Lamar, who was also a high school track star with Olympic dreams. "We're all chasing a Grey Cup here and whatever it takes, I'm going to do everything I can to help make that happen."