Cory Boyd will step on to the Rogers Centre field Monday night with a heavy heart but a clear mind.
The Edmonton Eskimos running back will face his former Toronto teammates for the first time since the Argonauts’ stunning decision to release him on Aug. 12, even though Boyd was the CFL rushing leader at the time.
The six-foot-one, 209-pound Boyd admits the transition from Toronto to Edmonton was difficult initially but redemption won’t be on his mind when the game between teams with identical 4-3 records kicks off.
“[Arriving here with the visiting team] felt different from the time I got off the plane and it’s a different feeling preparing for a team that you played 2 1 / 2years for,” Boyd said. “It’s rough ... I put my blood, sweat and tears with this team for many years but you have a job to do and I’m here to help my team win the best way possible.
“I’m about business. They’re old teammates, I know they have a job to do ... they’ll be ready to go and will give their all. I can’t let up because I played for this team for 2 1 / 2years ... I have to come out and play like I never left. It’s just that I’m wearing a different number [No. 28 instead of the No. 3 he wore in Toronto] and a different [uniform].”
This will mark the second meeting of the year between the teams after Edmonton edged Toronto 19-15 in the season opener for both squads June 30. That game featured the return of quarterback Ricky Ray to Alberta after the Eskimos dealt him to the Argos in December for veteran passer Steven Jyles, kicker Grant Shaw and a 2012 first-round draft pick.
Jyles will make his first appearance in Toronto since the blockbuster trade but gladly gave Boyd the spotlight.
“Cory was a big key to this team’s success for two years and, of course, his return will be bigger,” Jyles said. “I’m glad because it takes some pressure off me.
“But it’s still good to be back and a great feeling all around.”
Boyd joined the Argos in 2010 and quickly established himself as one of the CFL’s top runners, finishing second overall in rushing two straight years. But Toronto’s offensive emphasis this season is more on the passing game under first-year head coach Scott Milanovich and veteran Ray.
While the hard-running Boyd was the CFL’s rushing leader with 447 yards, he didn’t flourish as a receiver with 23 catches for just 70 yards. Staying in to pass block and provide protection for Ray wasn’t a strength either.
So Toronto released Boyd and replaced him with sophomore Chad Kackert, who ran for 94 yards and added five catches for 41 yards in the Argos’ 22-14 victory over Calgary last weekend.
Boyd wasn’t unemployed long, agreeing to terms with Edmonton hours after being released. But playing behind incumbent Hugh Charles, Boyd had just two carries for two yards in his Eskimos’ debut, a 38-25 loss to Montreal on Aug. 17.
Eskimos head coach Kavis Reed said Boyd will figure more prominently in the offensive gameplan Monday night.
“We’ve had an opportunity now for a week and a bit to really see what Cory is about as a player and the skillset he has,” Reed said. “We’ve built some packages that will allow us to really hopefully take advantage of his talents.”
Reed hasn’t felt the need to speak to Boyd about playing under control against his former team.
“Cory has shown us he’s a very focused individual who is very passionate about football,” Reed said. “I think sometimes coaches make the mistake of bringing up issues players really don’t feel are issues.
“Cory is going to play a football game, not the Toronto Argonauts.”
Milanovich offered few specifics about Boyd’s release when the move was made and spoke little Sunday about the prospect Boyd facing his former team.
“If he plays, Chris [Argos defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones] is prepared to handle him, the other guy [Charles], both of them at the same time,” Milanovich said. “Our defence is well prepared, they’re just going to attack whoever is out there hopefully.”
But when asked about what Boyd could do on the field, Milanovich responded, “You need to ask Kavis that. I don’t coach him any more.”
Boyd wasn’t fazed by his former coach’s response.
“I wouldn’t expect anything less from coach Scott,” Boyd said. “He’s a great guy, he’s up front with you, he’ll let you know how he feels and if things are not subtle with him he definitely has the right to deflect them off.
“There are no hard feelings from me with this team. They made a decision to move on without me and I have to live with that. I’m here with a new team, I feel so much better here, it’s a better situation. It’s just a hostile environment I’m coming into and I have to perform and that hushes a lot of the naysayers and talk.”
Argos linebacker Robert McCune expects to face a very motivated Boyd on Monday night.
“He’ll play hard because he’s a professional but any time a guy gets to play his old team he always wants to do well,” said McCune. “He will have a chip on his shoulder, we just have to worry about us and continue to play the defence we play.”
The harsh reality is Boyd could be playing for a job Monday night. On Saturday, former Eskimos running back Jerome Messam was released by the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.
Messam has just over a week to sign on with another NFL team before having to return to Edmonton. If Messam, the CFL’s top Canadian last season, does come back, it would create a very crowded backfield with Messam, Charles, Boyd and Canadian Calvin McCarty.
“Nothing is certain in this league, that’s one thing I’ve learned,” Boyd said. “I can’t look over my shoulder and see what Jerome Messam or this organization are going to do.
“Right now I can’t focus on that. I’m a part of this team and am going to ride it until the wheels fall off. If I allow myself to get emotionally unstable in this game I won’t be here long and I’m here for longevity knowing I have to take the bumps and bruises on the way of my journey.”