Mike Filer is putting himself and his family ahead of the game of football.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats veteran centre retired Monday after playing eight seasons with the CFL club. Filer, 31, re-signed May 28 and opened training camp July 10 but left early last week to ponder his future.
"I put football in front of everything in my life for the last 10 years, maybe even longer," Filer said during a videoconference. "It was time for me to step back and listen to my body.
"I knew if I didn't come to training camp and at least attempt it, I'd always be playing the, 'What if' game. For me, it was about just finally stepping back and listening and doing what's best for me and my family."
The six-foot-two, 290-pound native of Brantford, Ont., started 95-of-112 career games with Hamilton and also appeared in two Grey Cup contests with the franchise. Filer was originally drafted by Calgary in 2012 out of Mount Allison but signed with the Ticats on Aug. 12, 2012, after being released by the Stampeders.
The 2019 season was a bittersweet one for Filer and Hamilton. Filer felt it was his best campaign as a pro and the Ticats won a franchise-best 15 regular-season games before suffering a 33-12 Grey Cup setback to Winnipeg.
Filer was prepared to return to Hamilton in 2020 but the CFL didn't play due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The league is slated to open a 14-game regular season Aug. 5.
With no football last year, Filer and his family — partner Jen Robinson and young son, Dax — moved to New Brunswick, where Filer assisted the coaching staff at his alma mater. While Filer is stepping away from football as a player, he'd like to become a full-time coach.
"Unless you're a player, you don't really, truly understand what I mean by listening to your body and understanding there's life after football," he said. "I'm very excited for the next chapter with getting my feet into coaching.
"But at the same time I know stepping back for a little bit ... and seeing what comes at the end of the road is what I need to do and where I need to go."
Ticats head coach Orlondo Steinauer, also a former CFL player, understands where Filer was coming from.
"There's an end date for everybody," Steinauer said. "As a player, to go out on your own terms is rare, you're usually injured, get released or something negative happens.
"I think it's a blow to our locker room, for sure, he's a tremendous leader. It was a tough conversation but (I have) so much respect for that man and everything he's given to this organization. It's not goodbye, it's just goodbye for now."
Darius Ciraco, who Hamilton selected sixth overall in 2018 out of the University of Calgary, is regarded as the Ticats' heir apparent at centre.
"It's a very important position," Steinauer said. "It's all fun and games until you don't have one but we'll have a great succession plan.
"It's another person's opportunity. That's the way all starters get in, they get opportunity."
Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli came to Hamilton in 2013 via trade from Edmonton, and the pair had been a constant.
"That was a heart-breaker, I'm not going to lie," Masoli said of Filer's retirement. "It's still tough.
"You play with somebody for so long and depend on him for so many things, on and off the field. We've got the Grey Cup (on Dec. 12 at Tim Hortons Field) and we'd like that fairytale story. I'm glad he's able to do what he has to do."
Guard Brandon Revenberg, a '16 first-round pick and two-time CFL all-star from Essex, Ont., credits Filer for taking him under his wing.
"He was one of the big mentors for me when I came in," said Revenberg. "It's been a blast learning from him and definitely playing next to him.
"He's a great player, an even better teammate and friend."
Filer said when he joined the Ticats, his mentor was veteran Marwan Hage.
"I spent a large portion of (Sunday night) talking to Marwan and I told him how much it meant to me that he took the time to teach me and help develop me," Filer said. "He believed in me and I hope I could do that for the younger guys.
"They're going to be OK, they're going to be great without me and that's just football. I'm excited to watch Ciraco ... he's got a lot of potential. What Marwan saw in me I see in him so it's time for him to take it over. (Veteran tackle Chris) Van Zeyl will do a good job in that room and keep doing the things veteran guys do."
Filer's on-field play and tireless community work made him a Hamilton fan favourite. But long before he became a Ticats player, Filer was a long-time supporter of the club.
"Growing up in Brantford, I knew what it was like to be a Ticats fan," he said. "I knew what the expectation was as a player for our fans.
"For me, that's one of the most difficult parts of stepping away from this game is leaving that. When I think of Hamilton, I think of all the fans that show up there, day in and day out."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 19, 2021.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press