Shades of Burden

Calgary Stampeders' Joffrey Reynolds beats Saskatchewan Roughriders' Davin Bush for a touchdown...

Calgary Stampeders' Joffrey Reynolds beats Saskatchewan Roughriders' Davin Bush for a touchdown Saturday night. (Calgary Sun/Stuart Dryden)

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:18 AM ET

Tom Higgins doesn't remember much about the 1976 CFL season, his one and only rather forgettable year as a Calgary Stampeders linebacker.

The team was awful, winning just two late-season games while missing the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year. Two head coaches -- Bob Baker and Joe Tiller -- also lost their jobs.

Yet despite constant disappointment on the scoreboard, a tailback by the name of Willie Burden created a winning impression on the man who this season was named the Stampeders 23rd head coach.

A year earlier, Burden had won the Schenley Award as the CFL's most outstanding player, his team-record 1,896 rushing yards also guaranteeing him a trip to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

Those images are now flashing back to Higgins nearly 30 years later, thanks to performances like Joffrey Reynolds' 150-yard game against the Roughriders Saturday night that helped give the Stamps a 44-18 victory.

"I put him in similar company, very close to Willie Burden because he has great vision," said Higgins. "I see a lot of similarities and when you put someone in that kind of category as far as comparisons, that's an elite group.

"I believe if he continues to stay healthy through the course of his career, he might be able to put up some numbers that Willie Burden did when he was here."

Reynolds is now tied for second with Winnipeg's Charles Roberts in league rushing with 394 yards, just five behind Saskatchewan's Corey Holmes despite having played one less game. The 25-year-old Houston product's striking 6.9 yards per carry average is also creating comparisons to Burden.

'Willie B,' as he became known, finished his eight-year CFL career -- all with Calgary - with 6,234 yards, leaving him fourth on the team's all-time rushing list behind ground pounding legends Kelvin Anderson (8,292), Earl Lunsford (6,994) and Lovell Coleman (6,392).

Reynolds will obviously need to continue his spectacular play for several seasons to grind out those numbers but the coaching staff is confident he has all the tools to reach those heights. A 189-yard night last season, in just his third game as a Stampeder, was the sixth-best rushing performance in team history.

Offensive co-ordinator Steve Buratto likes Reynolds' low attack, which makes him difficult to tackle.

At 5-ft. 10-in., 218-lb. he can punish defenders who are attempting to wrap him up.

"He's a very physical runner," Buratto noted. "He's got a very low centre of gravity and he uses it. He's got wonderful acceleration.

"He cuts better than Mike Pringle does but is the same kind of physical guy."

Reynolds almost removed an appendage from Winnipeg's Doug Brown two weeks ago as the Bombers defensive lineman attempted to bring the back down with one arm.

"You won't arm tackle him," Buratto cautioned. "You had better be there to strike a blow. The only times he doesn't do it, he's been indecisive about where he's going.

"He's getting a lot better at seeing the play develop and making a quick decision about where to go. He doesn't always have to make the correct decision but he has to run with it.

"With his power and speed, if you run decisively, you catch the defence in the best position to make a tackle and he can still run through it.

"Often times, if there's a couple of guys there, he should pick one and work on him. The other guy will be another part of it but he won't be the guy. Set the one guy up and power through it."

While it's far too early to place Reynolds in a class among the Stampeders' best rushers of all time, he's heading in the right direction.

And bringing smiles to Higgins and Buratto along the way.


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