Chad Kackert helps Argonauts forget about Cory Boyd
The stocky running back who has three touchdowns in this year's playoffs looks to have become more than just another guy named Chad for the Toronto Argonauts.
While receiving and kick returning ace Chad Owens has justifiably attracted much of the attention during Grey Cup week, running back Chad Kackert should not be overlooked.
"He's really fit our team well and has had some huge plays to help us get here," coach Scott Milanovich said Thursday.
He hopes Kackert will be a factor again when the Argonauts attempt to win the 100th Grey Cup game on home turf over the Calgary Stampeders on Sunday.
The Simi Valley, Cal., native scored twice as the Argonauts downed the Edmonton Eskimos in the East Division semifinal two weeks ago, then added a spectacular 49-yard TD run up the middle to give Toronto the lead in an upset 27-20 victory against the Alouettes in Montreal in the East final last Sunday.
"If I'm going to take anything from it, it's just confidence," said Kackert. "That was a really good defence that we went against last week and there was room to run."
It felt better because in the first half, Kackert was stopped cold as the Argonauts failed to score after being first and goal from the Montreal one yard line.
And he had fumbled on Toronto's opening drive, which let Montreal take an early 3-0 lead.
"I had to fight back after that goalline stand," Kackert added. "I was a little upset about that.
"Everyone has to do their part and I have to do a better job of breaking tackles there, because it's not going to be easy getting into the end zone. It never is."
He ended the game with 139 rushing yards.
Milanovich accepts that not all running plays in his offence are going to be game-breakers and many are going to end in a quick pileup. The Toronto attack is centred on Ricky Ray standing in the pocket and throwing the ball.
But when the hole is there, they look to their five-foot-eight, 200-pound back to use his considerable ability to accelerate to turn it into a big gain.
"We're always going to be a pass-first team as long as Ricky's here," said Milanovich. "Chad's opportunities come within the ebb and flow of a game.
"The thing Chad really gets, and he got it last week, is that there were going to be times when we handed it off and he wasn't going to get anything, but there are also times we handed it off and we were going to have a nice front and that's when he had to explode. And he did. He was as key to that win as anyone on the team."
Up to the challenge
Kackert's whole season has been about making the best of opportunities.
He showed promise last season as a rookie filling in for the injured Cory Boyd, and got his break this season when the Argonauts, reportedly fed up with Boyd's attitude and weak blocking skills, released the two-time East all-star on Aug. 12.
After that, Kackert maintained a 6.4 yards per carry average, best among the CFL's top 10 rushers, and became a threat catching the ball out of the backfield. His said he works hard on his blocking, which is essential with Ray's limited scrambling ability.
"It was a challenge," he said. "It's experience that builds confidence, as long as you're doing the right things and that's what we've been doing since Week 7 when I got my chance."
Proving himself has been a constant for Kackert, who recalled being overlooked in high school because he was considered too small.
"I actually had a coach tell me when I was 13 that it's good to be little and fast but it's better to be big," he said. "That felt like a shot to the heart because they wouldn't play me on that team.
"I wasn't getting any reps and I was one of the fastest guys on the team. So ever since then I've been trying to prove people wrong. But it's no longer about that. It's about winning a game."
Kackert said his pre-game ritual involves "walking around and smiling."
Tackle Chris Van Zeyl said that's part of what makes blocking for him a pleasure.
"He's easy to block for because he's a great person," said Van Zeyl. "He's a guy you want to play for, a guy you don't want to disappoint.
"If you give him a little crack, he's going to kill people. Maybe not kill people, but he's going to score touchdowns."
Kackert is even second fiddle among running backs in the Grey Cup game, where most of the focus will be on Calgary's CFL rushing record-breaker Jon Cornish. Toronto's tailback has no problem with that.
And he's as happy as anyone that Owens is the Chad who has been drawing massive media scrums after practises and games. The entire team was to attend the CFL awards night where Owens was up against Cornish for the Most Outstanding Player award, including yet another Chad — Argos long snapper Chad Rempel.
"There's only a certain number of players on the field and if they're going to key on [Owens], it's going to open up somebody else," said Kackert. "And we have a lot of talent on our offence."