When asked about the possibility of breaking the CFL single-season rushing record, Kory Sheets doesn’t shy away.
Instead, the Saskatchewan Roughriders running back admits the idea of eclipsing Mike Pringle’s 2,065-yard milestone (set in 1998) is forefront in his mind, along with his intention to win this year’s Grey Cup in Regina.
The second-year CFL player speaks candidly about constantly recalculating his yardage, calling it “Mission2K.” And he doesn’t just plan to smash a record; he intends to become one of the greatest CFL running backs ever.
“If it’s at the front of my mind, it’s more likely I’ll get it done,” Sheets said by phone from Saskatchewan. “Some people are cool with a 100-yard game here and there, but that’s what an average back does. I don’t want to be just another running back who came up here and had a couple of good seasons.
“I want to be great, and I want people to remember me and my team and say that we were great.”
The 5-foot-11, 208-pound American leads the league with 1,149 rushing yards heading into Week 11. The 28-year-old thundered past the 1,000-yard mark in just eight games for the the 8-1 Riders, the fastest in CFL history to reach that number.
“There is a long list of running backs in the Hall of Fame who have never done what Kory Sheets has already done in 2013,” TSN analyst Duane Forde said. “The CFL has become more of a passing league than a running league. And we would expect to see receiving records fall more frequently than rushing records, so I think that would make it even more special.
“Mike Pringle was the most physically dominant player of his era [rushing for a CFL-record 16,425 yards from 1992-2004], and while Kory’s style is different, his production is very significant, because we’re talking about breaking the record of a sort of godlike player.”
While Sheets walks around football-crazed Regina enjoying celebrity status these days, he recalls a time less than two years ago, when he feared his football career was over.
The undrafted Purdue University product had opportunities with the San Francisco 49ers, Miami Dolphins and Carolina Panthers from 2009 to 2011. Whether it was a lack of chances or injury, he never caught on in the NFL.
Then, in 2012, a conversation with friend and now teammate, defensive back Carlos Thomas, convinced Sheets to consider the CFL.
He was training only occasionally as he worked for an insurance company. According to Sheets, Riders head coach Corey Chamblin later told him the team wasn’t all the impressed at first, and nearly didn’t invite him to training camp in 2012.
“I looked out of shape and I was dropping the ball,” Sheets recalled. “I didn’t look like a real athlete.”
He eventually made the team, and battled upward from the bottom of the depth chart. Sheets finished 2012 with 229 carries for 1,277 rushing yards, second in the CFL in both numbers behind Jon Cornish of the Calgary Stampeders. Sheets scored 11 rushing touchdowns and two receiving.
In January, he was arrested for domestic assault in Florida and did a domestic violence program in lieu of prosecution. He faced internal discipline from the team and came to camp speaking of how embarrassed he was. He vowed to move on.
“My off-season this year, I worked out morning and night,” Sheets said. “It was so different from the previous off-season. I stopped going out, changed the way I ate, and cut out drinking. I trained with teammate [and fellow running back] Jock Sanders in Florida. The fat I had packed on the last off-season when I wasn’t focused on football, I turned that into muscle.”
If he remains healthy and on his current pace, Sheets estimates he could break Pringle’s single-season record around Week 15 or 16.
“This roll, it feels great, but it’s what I expect of myself,” Sheets said. “When I came up here, it wasn’t just to be another guy. I’ve made that very clear.
“No other running back has the tools that I have and can do the things I can do, and I’m vocal about it. I hope my game speaks loud too.”