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Bears sign Roughriders slotback Andy Fantuz to contract

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The Associated Press
2/4/2011 2:52:22 PM
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The CFL's outstanding Canadian is ready to give the NFL a shot.

Saskatchewan Roughriders slotback Andy Fantuz has signed a contract with the Chicago Bears.

"It's really exciting for me," Fantuz said Friday at the NFL team's practice facility. "It's a whole new avenue for my career. I'm excited to make that step and get the opportunity to try out for the Bears.

"I'm particularly excited about this organization because of all the people I've met and all the history behind it and the fan base. It's something I'm really looking forward to."

Fantuz, 27, also examined his NFL options last year before signing a new deal with the Roughriders. However, since he's entering his option year this season, he had until Feb. 16 to sign with an NFL club.

The six-foot-four, 220-pound Fantuz enjoyed a banner 2010 season with Saskatchewan. The native of Chatham, Ont., was the CFL's leading receiver with 87 catches for 1,380 yards and six touchdowns.

He helped the Riders make it to last year's Grey Cup game in Edmonton, where they dropped a 21-18 decision to Montreal.

"It is always difficult when you lose one of your top players, but we do congratulate Andy and wish him all the best in Chicago," Roughriders general manager Brendan Taman said in a statement.

Fantuz became the first Canadian-born player to lead the CFL in receiving since Dave Sapunjis accomplished the feat with Calgary in 1995. Fantuz was named a league all-star last season for the first time in his five-year career.

"We knew this was a possibility and we will continue with our off-season plan to replace Andy," Taman said. "We will monitor our options, both within the personnel we have, and with recruiting as we go forward."

Cracking the Bears' lineup will be a big challenge for Fantuz. While he's a big body and a huge target, there are questions about whether he is fast enough to be effective south of the border.

"It'll be a big difference and a big change for me," Fantuz said. "It's going to be a faster game. It's going to be different. But being a football player, I'm excited for that challenge and I think I'll relish it.

"I'll be training for it and once training camp comes along, I'll be ready to go."

The loss of Fantuz is a huge blow to the Riders. In addition to his prowess on the football field, Fantuz is a popular figure with local football fans and even has his own breakfast cereal, Fantuz Flakes.

Fantuz was originally drafted by the Riders with the third overall pick of the 2006 Canadian college draft. In 73 regular-season games with Saskatchewan, Fantuz had 276 receptions for 4,136 yards and 23 touchdowns.

The Bears have had great success developing Canadian defensive end Israel Idonije, who grew up in Brandon and starred at the University of Manitoba. Fantuz has followed Idonije's career since the two met at an awards banquet when both were at university.

"I remember him being a huge guy and a really nice guy," Fantuz said. "He really has been an inspiration to not only me but a lot of CIS players who dream of making it to the NFL."

Fantuz won the Hec Crighton Award as the top CIS football player with the Western Ontario Mustangs in 2005.

He recently worked out with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Minnesota Vikings, Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots.

Also Friday, the Roughriders announced that Steve Buratto has been hired as offensive line coach. He started his CFL coaching career in the same position with Saskatchewan back in 1980. The team also announced that defensive line coach Mike Scheper will not return next season.

Andy Fantuz (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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