Ray eyes vote of con­fi­dence

First CFL top player award in reach for Argo QB after mon­ster cam­paign re­wards coach’s faith

Toronto Star - - SPORTS - DREW ED­WARDS HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

When the usu­ally pre­dictable Marc Trest­man held his first press con­fer­ence as the new head coach of the Toronto Arg­onauts last Fe­bru­ary, he did just a sin­gle shock­ing thing: He named Ricky Ray his start­ing quar­ter­back.

At the time, Ray was 37 years old and com­ing off back-to-back sea­sons in which he’d played in just nine games be­cause of in­juries, par­tic­u­larly a trou­ble­some throw­ing shoul­der that robbed him of al­most all of his ve­loc­ity and much of his leg­endary touch. The Ar­gos had Drew Willy in house and most were pre­dict­ing a train­ing camp bat­tle at the very least. Then Trest­man made his stun­ning procla­ma­tion, more or less sight un­seen, hav­ing not watched CFL foot­ball since leav­ing for the NFL after the 2012 sea­son.

“When I el­e­vated him to be a starter, I didn’t el­e­vate him on the pre­vi­ous four years be­cause I didn’t see him play. I el­e­vated him on the player that I knew when I was in the league,” Trest­man said this week. “It was a leap of faith.”

On Thurs­day, Ray was named the East Divi­sion’s most out­stand­ing player while Trest­man earned top coach hon­ours. Ray played in 17 games and threw for 5,205 yards, boast­ing a 70.7 per cent com­ple­tion mark as Toronto went 9-9 — worst to first in the East in just a sin­gle year.

Stay­ing healthy was ob­vi­ously a huge fac­tor, but Ray says Trest­man’s dec­la­ra­tion in Fe­bru­ary — he was as sur­prised as any­one — had a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact.

“Go­ing into last off-sea­son, I re­ally didn’t know what my sit­u­a­tion was, and to have Marc — who had never coached me be­fore — give me that vote of con­fi­dence was big for my con­fi­dence as well,” he said. “He’s done a great job of coach­ing me up and mak­ing me feel con­fi­dent as a player, and hope­fully I’ve been able to re­pay that a lit­tle bit.”

Beyond the psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pact, Ray says he’s ben­e­fit­ted from the vaunted Trest­man sys­tem, which stresses tim­ing routes, high-per­cent­age passes and pro­tect­ing the QB. After win­ning two Grey Cups in Mon­treal with An­thony Calvillo — an­other veteran, tac­i­turn pivot — in 2009 and 2010, Trest­man’s ap­proach has been copied far and wide.

Ray will com­pete with Ed­mon­ton quar­ter­back Mike Reilly for top player hon­ours. The Argo has won three cham­pi­onships, nu­mer­ous all-star nods and been voted Grey Cup MVP, but never been the CFL’s top player.

“There’s just al­ways been great play­ers in this league and I just haven’t played well enough to win that award,” he said, be­fore break­ing out into a grin. “Boo hoo, right? I just haven’t done it.”

Ricky Ray com­pleted 70.7 of his pass at­tempts.

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