For the fifth straight CFL season, the Calgary Stampeders are going to enter training camp with a Canadian leading the way at the running back position.
This time though, it’s going to be Jerome Messam as the favourite to carry the ball this season instead of Jon Cornish, but the philosophy with the Stampeders offence will remain the same. When Cornish was at the top of his game, there was no one better in the league, and he proved a homegrown product deserved a chance to be the No. 1 guy at that position. Messam will try to follow in those footsteps after signing a two-year deal with the Stamps on Monday, foregoing free-agency, which is set to begin on Tuesday morning.
Over the past two years, the Stamps rode a rollercoaster with Cornish. When he played, he was excellent, giving them great production both along the ground and as a receiver. When he didn’t play, there was a ripple effect throughout the roster as another Canadian needed to be activated to replace him — unless there were those instances where the Stamps dressed more ‘nationals’ than required.
One of the effects of Cornish’s injuries — he played exactly half the games — was that when it was clear last season he wasn’t coming back due to concussion, the Stamps went to trade market to bring in a replacement. They found Messam, getting him from the Roughriders for kicker Tyler Crapigna.
The Stamps do have a Canadian backup in Matt Walter, which eases the burden when the No. 1 rusher goes down, and that gives this team a sense they can make position solely a national spot if they so desired. In those instances when Cornish was replaced with an international, another Canadian needed to pick up the slack elsewhere.
In recent years, the likes of Cornish, Messam and Andrew Harris have grown into starters — but now the Stamps are the only team those players have suited up for that is sticking with the ‘Canadian at running back’ method (at least right now).
Messam broke in with the B.C. Lions, put up a 1,000-yard season with the Eskimos, then went from Montreal to Saskatchewan before landing in Calgary.
The Lions, meanwhile, had Harris during his breakout years, and now they are moving on by letting him hit free agency. Instead of trying to bring back their star rusher, the Lions are spreading their money around. GM-head coach Wally Buono remarked that he could get two Americans for the price of one Canadian (Harris), so that’s the way the Lions are headed at running back.
It makes sense in a lot of ways. Canadian starters get premium money, but the running back spot is a demanding job and it’s not easy to suit up in every single game.
There is an expectation that Harris heads home to Winnipeg and signs with the Blue Bombers — one of the few teams that hasn’t tried a Canadian starter at running back. Harris is expected to come at a premium dollar figure, while Messam is thought to have inked his deal for much less than what Harris will garner.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Stamps have locked up Messam though.
In a short tenure with the team, Messam endeared himself to the team and the coaching staff by picking up their system quickly and showing a great attitude.
The Stamps — under John Hufnagel — have always put an emphasis at building their Canadian depth and this off-season was no different. Heading into this off-season, the Stamps had nine pending Canadian free agents and now six of them have signed before getting there.
The only three left are long-snapper Randy Chevrier, who won’t be getting an offer as the team goes with Tim St. Pierre this season, receiver Jabari Arthur, who was cut and brought back when injuries hit last year, and special-teamer Karl McCartney.
On the international side, the Stamps will have receiver Jeff Fuller and defensive back Keon Raymond going to free agency on Tuesday.
They can at least rest easy that their running back position is set.
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