Esks adept at battling adversity

GERRY MODDEJONGE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:53 PM ET

It hasn’t just been a season of adversity for the Edmonton Eskimos, it’s been a season where adversity has become the norm.

Not that they’ve made any excuses, but barely a week has gone by where the team hasn’t had to deal with one issue or another.

From talk of hosting the Grey Cup to spending training camp at Clarke Park before the season even began, the Eskimos had to refamiliarize themselves with their own locker-room as well as the new turf at Commonwealth Stadium. All the while, they have practised amid the din of construction and renovations.

“It’s been definitely a weird year, a lot of different stuff going on,” said quarterback Ricky Ray. “That’s kind of been the story for us. We’ve had a lot of great changes, obviously, with the locker-room and the Grey Cup being here and everything that’s going on, the field turf, all that.”

Then came four losses to open the season before changes began to happen to personnel, from players all the way up to the general manager.

“We had high expectations for ourselves, got off to a poor start, had to deal with all that,” Ray said. “Had to deal with people coming and going, people losing their jobs and, you know, we just kept battling.”

And it’s turned into one of the hardest fights of his career.

“I’ve been through some tough seasons, ’06 and ’07 were pretty tough seasons here,” Ray said of the two years the Eskimos missed the playoffs after setting a North American professional sports team record of 34 consecutive post-season appearances. “This year was tough just because of how bad of a start we got off to.

“We were sitting at 2-9 at one point and things weren’t looking good for us. The only thing we had to keep playing for was Winnipeg and B.C. were both struggling as well so we knew we still had a shot for the playoffs.

“To be where we’re at today going into the last week and controlling our own destiny — if we win, we’re in — it’s definitely a great turnaround that we’ve had.”

The transformation has been as much mental as it was physical, but no one was able to prescribe some sort of magic potion to cure their ills.

“We’ve had a lot of sports psychologists, not professional ones,” Ray said, grinning. “We’ve had a lot of talking in this locker-room. That’s usually what happens when you start to struggle, everybody puts their two cents in and you get a lot of talk.

“We went through that early in the season. It doesn’t always work. Most of the places I’ve been it doesn’t work, those meetings and stuff.’

But with this team this year, Ray said whatever it was they needed to find, they’ve found it.

“Everybody stuck together and that’s been the case since I’ve been here in Edmonton,” Ray said. “We’ve always had good locker-rooms, everybody’s believed in each other. There hasn’t been really any finger pointing. Guys have stuck together and we’ve been able to dig ourselves out of this and put ourselves into a good position right now.”

IN AND OUT: SB Kelly Campbell (leg) did not make the trip to Regina Friday. The Eskimos released QB Matt Nichols, WR Nate Binder, DE Joe Sykes, LB Damaso Munoz and DB Carlos Thomas from their practice roster.

gerry.moddejonge@sunmedia.ca


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