Ray eyes vote of confidence
First CFL top player award in reach for Argo QB after monster campaign rewards coach’s faith
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.