Messam top Canuck?

Eskimos running back Jerome Messam rushes against the Alouettes at Percival Molson Stadium in...

Eskimos running back Jerome Messam rushes against the Alouettes at Percival Molson Stadium in Montreal, Que., Aug. 11, 2011. (ANDRE FORGET/QMI Agency)

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:41 AM ET

EDMONTON - Jerome Messam, two weeks from now, will become the CFL award winner as Most Outstanding Canadian.

He claims to know the opportunity in front of him with the status he’ll have achieved when he walks off the stage at the Gibson’s Finest Awards during Grey Cup week.

“Little kids can see me. I think I can become a great role model,” said the player who beat out both B.C. Lions kicker Paul McCallum and Calgary Stampeders running back Jon Cornish to become a can’t-lose finalist against Montreal Alouettes kicker Sean White.

There’s another thing which can happen when Messam walks off that stage in Vancouver if he truly understands what has happened to him this year.

He’ll be able to leave his baggage behind.

“I hope so,” said Messam. “As long as there are all positive things, I think I can go on and stay hungry, work hard and things like this will happen.”

At the start of the season, who would have conceived or believed Travis Lulay as most outstanding player and Jerome Messam as top Canadian?

Lulay should be the story of the season. But he’s not. Instead a kid who punched out a teammate in a dispute over a parking pass last year and a player who was suspended in training camp this season for breaking rules and bringing a female into the dorm, and was traded for the proverbial roll of tape — a fifth round draft pick in 2013 — has made himself an even bigger story.

Coach Kavis Reed said it would be appropriate if the first Canadian running back in over a decade to rush for 1,000 yards, a previously messed up young man who won two Player of the Month and five Player of the Week awards, played a key role to help take his team to the Grey Cup and to sit with him in the audience at the awards ceremony.

“I think this is one where you totally have to say it’s a team-type nomination because this team openly embraced Jerome and allowed him to come into our locker-room and be a part of this team,” said Reed.

“They did so with no prejudice with what happened in the past and Jerome took advantage of that. Collaboratively, those guys have earned that recognition.”

The Eskimos are going to need Messam to be even bigger in the playoffs than he was in the regular season.

“It’s important for me to have a good performance,” said Messam of Sunday’s Western Conference Semifinal against the Calgary Stampeders.

“They know we’re going to run the ball, or want to run the ball, so they’re going to be tough upfront.”

Messam didn’t handle early season recognition well. But he has since, other than being ejected from the BC Place game when he allowed former Lions teammates to push his buttons.

But Reed says he’s confident he can count on him now.

“The biggest thing there is that he’s really matured as time has progressed during the season and I expect him to approach this game the way he should approach it.”

Messam knows he owes his teammates and his coach.

“Just coming in, they gave me a clean slate and a fresh opportunity. I came here to a young head coach who understands me. He’s been a great coach, friend and mentor to me. He’s given me good advice. He just gave me a great opportunity and it’s worked out for the best.”

There was a big hug for GM Eric Tillman after the final game of the regular season which gave Messam 195 carries for 1,057 for the season.

“I thanked him. It was a great moment there.”

You have to wonder how many of these awards there might be in his future.

Eskimos living legend, the China Clipper Normie Kwong, won two. Kwong holds the record for a Canadian running back with 1,437 yards in a season and had three 1,000-yard years. If he becomes a mature person and total pro, what could Messam accomplish?

“In terms of talent, Jerome is really a young man who could really, really do some special things,” said Reed.

“If health allows him to, if the focus is there, Jerome could really be a guy who could change the way teams approach the running back position. Jerome is 245 pounds and a legitimate 4.5-second 40-yard guy with very soft hands who has learned to become a better pass protector. I’m not overstating it to say he’s become the complete package.

“If he focuses and injuries allow him, I think he can do some really special things in this league or any other league.”

Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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