By DAN RALPH
The Canadian Press
Thursday, November 16, 2017
TORONTO -- The day he became the Toronto Argonauts head coach, Marc Trestman went out on a limb and endorsed Ricky Ray as his starter.
It was a bold move considering injuries had limited Ray to just 12 games combined the previous two seasons and Trestman was returning to Canada following four seasons in the NFL. But the 38-year-old has more than fulfilled Trestman's faith, making 17 regular-season starts in leading Toronto (9-9) to top spot in the East Division and to within a win of its first championship-game appearance since winning the 100th Grey Cup at Rogers Centre in 2012.
"I try to [repay Trestman's faith] every day and hopefully I've repaid it a little bit," Ray said. "You always want to know your situation and for me, going into last off-season, I really didn't know what mine was and to have Marc, who'd never coached me before, give me that vote of confidence was big for my confidence.
"It's much easier to play this game when you feel like the people around you believe in you and that's what it's been for me this year. He's done a great job of coaching me up and making me feel confident as a player out there."
On Sunday, Toronto plays host to Saskatchewan in the East final at BMO Field. The Riders swept the season series 2-0.
Trestman, 61, came to Toronto with a well-earned reputation as a quarterback guru. In 2002 as the Oakland Raiders offensive co-ordinator, he helped a 37-year-old Rich Gannon become the NFL's most valuable player. He also worked with San Francisco's Steve Young, Arizona's Jake Plummer and Detroit's Scott Mitchell.
Trestman also led the Montreal Alouettes, with veteran quarterback Anthony Calvillo, to three Grey Cup appearances (two wins) from 2008 to 2012 before becoming head coach of the Chicago Bears.
Under Trestman, Ray registered personal highs in passes (668) and completions (474), while his passing yards (5,546) were the second-most of his 15-year career. (He passed for 5,663 yards with Edmonton in 2008.)
Despite being hit often, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Ray missed just one game to injury, which Toronto lost.
"When I elevated him to be a starter, I didn't elevate him [based] on the previous four years because I didn't see him play," Trestman said.
"I elevated him on the player that I knew when I was in the league and it was a leap of faith.
"But I'll take you back, I gave him that opportunity but said he and I would make that decision at the end of training camp. Well, it didn't take but a few practices to realize he was more than capable of taking on the responsibility."
Calvillo also thrived under Trestman. In addition to the Grey Cup titles, Calvillo was twice named the CFL's top player and three times had more than5,000 passing yards.
Trestman sees many similarities between Ray and Calvillo, now Montreal's offensive co-ordinator.
"They're such low-maintenance guys obsessed with detail preparation," Trestman said. "Every little thing matters to Ricky in terms of his preparation.
"He's even-keeled and emotionally intelligent - he never wavers. He leads the way just like Anthony's demeanour led the way in Montreal."
Ray became just the third player to surpass 5,000 yards in a season for a fourth time (Calvillo and Doug Flutie are the others). Last week, Ray and Edmonton quarterback Mike Reilly were named finalists for the CFL's outstanding player award.
It's the third time Ray has been nominated for the honour, which he's never won. But with typical modesty, Ray credited Trestman's offence for his stellar campaign.
"What helps me is I'm an execution guy. I need a lot of help around me," Ray said. "I'm not a guy who can just carry a team by just sheer skill, arm strength and athletic ability.
"I need guys helping me out and [Trestman] does a great job of getting everybody on the same page, everybody executing at a high level.
When we've got that it definitely helps my game."
Ray's game hasn't needed much help. This year, he became just fourth player in league history to surpass 60,000 career passing yards after Hall of Famers Calvillo, Damon Allen and Henry Burris.
Ray's expected to be a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection upon retirement, regardless of whether he secures his first most-outstandingplayer award later this month.
He's unsure if being a finalist for a third time would be a defining moment in his career.
"That's up to you [media] guys," he said.
"There's always been great players in this league and I just haven't played well enough to win that award. Boo hoo, right? I just haven't done it."
Ray isn't an average superstar. The face of the Argos often takes public transit from his home in Mississauga to BMO Field so his wife and two daughters can drive in.
On the field, he's as stoic following a TD pass as he is after taking a hellacious hit. He has never been seen chewing out a teammate.
"That's what you love about him," said tackle Chris Van Zeyl, completing his ninth season with Toronto.
"It doesn't matter if he's on Cloud 9 or pissed off ... you're always going to get the same Ricky Ray.
"Yes, he's tough and resilient, but he's always been the toughest and most resilient in my book. I don't think I've ever played with a guy that's as unselfish and professional as Ricky Ray. You want to play your best for him."