Earlier this summer, Ken-Yon Rambo’s football future didn’t look good.
He was unemployed after being released by the Calgary Stampeders and there were questions about whether he’d be able to overcome Achilles tendinitis and resume his career. Not exactly ideal circumstances for a receiver also on the wrong side of 30.
Three months later, however, the 33-year-old former Ohio State Buckeye is back playing football as a starter with the Toronto Argonauts.
“I’m feeling real good,” Rambo said. “This is a journey . . . it’s all about how you deal with it mentally, how strong you are mentally.
“I know what I’m capable of and what my body can do. You just have to stick with it and stay positive.”
After seven productive seasons in Calgary, Rambo’s positive approach was put to the test when he was released in June. Rambo helped the Stampeders win the 2008 Grey Cup and was eighth on the club’s all-time list for receptions (406) and receiving yards (5,995) and 10th in TD catches (39).
He was a CFL all-star in 2008 when he led the league in receiving with 100 catches for 1,473 yards and eight TDs. A knee injury limited Rambo to just three games in 2009 but he returned strong in 2010 with 72 catches for 1,172 yards and eight TDs.
He had 51 receptions for 695 yards and five TDs in 12 games last year while battling the Achilles ailment. It flared up again this summer during training camp, ultimately resulting in his release.
But the six-foot-one, 207-pound Rambo never considered retirement, remaining steadfast in his belief he could still play. Trouble was, he needed to convince another team to give him a chance.
Rambo arrived in Toronto shortly after leaving Calgary but spent more than two months watching practice while receiving treatment without pay. He eventually began practising with his new team and made his Argos debut as a backup, registering two catches for 16 yards in a 33-30 Labour Day win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Rambo made his first start with Toronto on Saturday, contributing three receptions for 66 yards in the 45-31 rematch victory over Hamilton at Rogers Centre.
Rambo boldly predicted before that game he’d combine with Argos starter Ricky Ray on a long completion. He proved prophetic, registering a 49-yard catch before being caught at the Hamilton one-yard line to set up Jarious Jackson’s short TD run.
“I was trying to get into the end zone as fast as possible,” Rambo said. “I had to drag two guys but we got in there.
“But I will get in there soon. This ain’t my first rodeo. I’ve been in the end zone before, I love it and will get there soon.”
Head coach Scott Milanovich said Rambo brings important intangibles to Toronto’s offensive attack.
“He’s a gamer,” Milanovich said. “He’s got a little bit of moxy to him that brings something to our offence.
“He’s won Grey Cups, he’s been an all-star. It has been good to have him out there.”
Rambo arrived in Calgary in 2005 after a brief NFL tenure. He was a 2001 seventh-round draft pick of the Oakland Raiders but was a late cut.
He played two years with the Dallas Cowboys as a receiver and kick-returner before being released. Rambo later joined the New York Jets but never appeared in any games.
Rambo has plenty of catching up to do in order to become more familiar with Milanovich’s offence. But he’ll achieve that goal with the same approach that has become the staple of his 2012 season.
“It’s all about continuing to progress,” he said. “I only got into meetings roughly two weeks ago and there’s been a lot to learn about the offence.
“We put in some new plays for (Labour Day) and a few more in for Saturday and we’re going to keep going from there. But I’m learning the offence, I’m starting to get things down real good.”
Rambo said Milanovich’s offensive approach suits his game well.
“It’s a route-running offence and that’s what I love,” he said. “You’re going to get open so you can have fun running your routes.
“He (Milanovich) does a great job of putting everybody in position to catch the ball.”
Milanovich’s offensive scheme also creates a healthy competition among the receivers to get open and catch Ray’s eye.
“You want to get open so Ricky can throw you the ball,” Rambo said. “Everybody is hungry, everybody is passionate about their job and we want to keep on building and getting better.”
With consecutive wins over Hamilton, Toronto (6-4) is tied atop the East Division standings with the Montreal Alouettes. Although the Argos already have as many wins as they did all of last season, they face a stiff test Saturday in Vancouver against the defending Grey Cup-champion B.C. Lions (7-3).
“We’re starting to get on to a roll, we just have to get consistent and that’s what it’s all about in the back end of the season,” Rambo said. “It’s a long season and you want to start peaking near at the end of it.
“We’re heading in the right direction.”
And for the first time in three months, that has helped make football fun again for Rambo.
“I love what I do,” he said. “I have fun playing football, I have fun with the guys.
“It’s all about the journey of the season and you have to have fun with it.”