Johnson: Kackert’s road to stardom started in Calgary

 

Argos running back had one practice before a tweaked hamstring led to his release from Stamps

 
 
 

TORONTO

Chad Kackert would like to clear up any misconception. He didn’t last one day as a Calgary Stampeder. One practice, yes. Not one day.

“They picked me up after I was released by Jacksonville,” the Toronto Argonauts battering ram tailback was recalling Friday at lunchtime. ”I had one practice. At McMahon Stadium. I tried to practise again two days later and it just didn’t work. They had me on all the scout teams, I was runnin’ routes down the field all day, playing safety, kick returner. After the road trip from Miami” — he drove the 4,948 kilometres to Calgary — “to get there, my hamstring wasn’t really holdin’ up.

“Disappointing? Oh, yeah. It was a little demoralizing to get up there, have one practice and realize ‘I’m not playing football anymore this year and I don’t know what’s going to happen next year.’

“I do feel like if they’d given me a few more days, more of a solid look, I would’ve stayed. Been a kick returner or a backup ...”

Not that anyone should misinterpret the remark as in any way inflammatory. Don’t be reading any headline-grabbing anti-Stampeder sentiment into it. Kackert isn’t spending every minute of down time hatching elaborate revenge plans for Sunday, gleefully probing a small, lifelike John Hufnagel doll with poisoned pins or actively campaigning to have Marty the Touchdown Horse placed in quarantine.

He bears no malice; holds no grudges.

“Everything happens for a reason. If my hamstring had been OK, I’d most likely be backing up (Jon) Cornish right now and not getting any playing time.

“Instead I’m getting a chance to be a part of a Grey Cup game and be on the field.”

As tall as a fire hydrant. As potent as a stick of blasting gelatin. A small, clenched fist of a man. He’s like erosion on defences, keeps beating on you and beating on you, insidiously, until the covering wears away and the dam finally bursts.

Chad Kackert has become that special ingredient that rounds out a multi-faceted Argo attack. The complementary counter-balance to the fleet receiving corps of Chad Owens, Andre Durie, Dontrelle Inman, Maurice Mann and Jason Barnes that Ricky Ray has at his disposal.

Cory Boyd? Cory Boyd? Hmmm ... No one much remembers the name ‘round here anymore.

“(Chad’s) a little spark plug,” says offensive tackle Chris Van Zeyl, paid to open portals to freedom for Kackert. “One of those guys, when the ball’s in his hands anything can happen. He gets open, often. And with relative ease, too.

“Because of his size, he does tend to get overlooked. He can float through defences. He can hide behind linebackers and even some DBs in this league. His role has increased, and he’s excelled in it. Kack’s been doing it all for us. We know he’s going to be back there blocking his ass off.

“And when he gets the ball, he’s as explosive as Chad (Owens). He give him a small crack, the tiniest of openings, and he is so gone.”

Reportedly dissatisfied with his attitude and blocking acumen, the Argos took a huge gamble in releasing Boyd, the league’s leading rusher, and installing Kackert in the No. 1 tailback slot. In his debut, at McMahon Stadium, though, he more than justified coach Scott Milanovich’s faith, wringing 94 yards out of the Stampeder defence as Toronto ground out a 22-14 win. He finished with 638 yards on the season, a 6.4 average and five touchdowns.

The kid from Simi Valley, Calif., is a unique guy. For instance, he enjoys sifting though famous historical quotes to find inspirational impetus.

“The first one that’s coming to mind is about just treating this like any other week and being diligent. Balthasar Gracian wrote: “Diligence executes what intelligence carefully thought through.’”

Not too many tailbacks can be found quoting a 17th century Aragonese Jesuit and baroque prose writer.

Kackert will be buoyed by family support on Sunday. His sister’s driving in from New Jersey, his parents from the SoCal homestead. This is their first chance to see their son in Argo double blue. You can’t miss his dad, Craig. He’ll be the guy toting the video camera behind the bench.

“He’s extreme ADD,” laughs Kackert. “He’s gonna have to do something to get attention. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him dressed up as Jason the Argonaut. Put it this way: You won’t have to look for him.

“My dad doesn’t know anything about football. He loves getting good angles. He’d have three or four cameras at a high-school game. I had a GREAT highlight tape coming out of high school.”

Kackert’s mom attributes his explosiveness on the field to his love of skateboarding as a kid.

“I’ll tell you, I had a hard time putting the skateboard away once I figured out I could play football, when I was about 13 or 14. I was on a skateboard before I could walk.

“I was always trying to jump on things, off stairs or roofs, so I developed a little bit of explosiveness when I was a kid. I had 15 broken bones before I was 18 years old. One in football, one in skateboarding, the rest doing weird things. I broke my wrist once when I put my dad’s roller skates on, which were about eight sizes too big for me, grabbed my doberman and told him to run.

“I was probably eight years old.”

He’ll be breaking tackles, not bones, on Sunday. An opportunity is just like a hole. Don’t dawdle or it’ll close on you.

“I’m trying to treat this like any other game. Try to keep mellow. If I get too excited, my heart starts racing. It’s been a long road. But everybody’s had a long road. Not just me. You try not to get distracted by the personal stuff too much. I wouldn’t be here if the coaches didn’t believe I could play the game.

“It’s humbling. A blessing. I just want to go out there and justify the faith that’s been put in me.”

Jon Cornish is undisputably the best back in the land.

But if Chad Kackert, the one-practice Stampeder, can be the best back on the day, the Argos will fancy their championship chances.

George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at gjohnson@calgaryherald.com on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH

 
 
 
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