It’s been a frustrating season for Toronto Argonauts running back Chad Kackert, but he’s hoping to flip it, starting now.
The MVP of last year’s Grey Cup, who drew interest from NFL teams in the off-season, has played in just seven of Toronto’s 16 games this year. Bounced in and out of the lineup repeatedly by injuries, one of the CFL’s most-elusive rushers has just 60 carries for 401 yards and three touchdowns in 2013.
After missing the last two games, he’ll return once again this week, hoping to help the Argos clinch the East Division title.
Kackert says he heeded the words of the poem If, by Rudyard Kipling, as he endured weeks of pain and trying rehab stints.
First, there was the low hit from Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive back Alex Suber in Week 4 that put the now-27-year-old American out six games with a knee injury. Then, in his first game back, Kackert’s shoulder and ribs were crunched in a tackle – something that would linger. Then, he suffered a concussion.
“It has been frustrating, but it’s been a learning experience,” said Kackert, who took the poem’s theme of moral lessons and conduct to heart (for example: “If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you …”).
“If I let anything get to my character, then I’ve really lost, so I had to take that in and understand that that’s the one thing I do have that can’t be taken away.”
Now healthy, Kackert is back in the Argos lineup with just two games remaining, as his team faces the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Thursday in Toronto. Quarterback Ricky Ray returned from his shoulder injury two games ago, but Toronto’s offence hasn’t hummed just yet.
“[Kackert has] that explosiveness –we’ve seen it this year and last year – he gets a crease, and he’s gone for a touchdown,” Ray said. “That changes momentum, field position and gets you going offensively. To have that big-play ability back in the lineup is going to be really big for us.”
The 10-6 Argonauts are four points ahead of the second-place Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the East and can clinch the division title with a win, along with a first-round bye. They hope they can open holes for a fresh Kackert to spark a team playing three games in the span of 10 days.
“He’s fast – that’s his No. 1 attribute – and when he’s playing well, he’s very decisive, he hits the hole and he goes,” Argos head coach Scott Milanovich said. “We don’t want to see him out there dancing and being indecisive. We want him to get through that hole before they can close it.”
While the Bombers have already been eliminated from the postseason picture, they played some of their best football in the past two weeks, beating the Montreal Alouettes 34-27, and then staging a second-half comeback behind quarterback Max Hall versus the Argos before losing narrowly.
The Bombers tallied 466 yards of offence last week, and held Toronto to 266. Hall completed 30 of 50 passes for 385 yards, while Ray was 21 of 35 for 246 yards.
The 3-13 Blue Bombers are scraping to salvage pride in the last two weeks of a poor season, and to avoid matching their club record of 15 losses, set in 1998.
“We’ve been in their shoes before and know that at that point, it can become a battle field, guys out there fighting for jobs and contracts for the next year,” Kackert said. “In 2011, we were 6-12, but 3-1 in our final games, and we built on that the next year.
“So we have to make sure we are fighting for our one goal more that they are each fighting for their own jobs.”