Ray optimistic about Esks
By DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency
|Edmonton Eskimos Ricky Ray during practice in Edmonton, Alberta on Thursday, November 17, 2011. (AMBER BRACKEN/QMI Agency)
EDMONTON - The disappointment was comparable.
But unlike garbage bag day a year ago, the feelings of uncertainty were replaced by a sense of optimism.
“There’s a ton of difference between this year and last year,” said Edmonton Eskimos quarterback Ricky Ray. “Last year, you didn’t know what was going to happen. You knew that there was going to be a lot of changes with coaching staff and players. I didn’t know if I was going to be back.
“This year, a good foundation was laid and hopefully we can carry that moving forward.”
A season after winning just seven games and missing the playoffs for the third time in five years, the Eskimos were able to claim 11 victories and won a home playoff date.
The club took a giant step forward this year and hopes to continue the trend next season.
“I can kind of relate this to the 2002 season, we made it to the Grey Cup that year and we ended up losing, that was a tough loss for us,” Ray said. “I just remember using that as fuel for the off-season to get back and get ready to try and get better for next year. That’s what we have to do. It was a good season, but we have to come back a little more hungry next year.”
Heading into the year under a new general manager and a rookie head coach, there was a lot of uncertainty for the Eskimos.
However, Kavis Reed, a former Eskimos defensive back, stressed the importance of doing things the way the club had done traditionally in order to bring pride back to the franchise.
“A lot of it was that,” Ray said. “It seems like over the last few years, it was just guys coming and going and we really didn’t have that sense of unity. Definitely Kavis did a great job of brining us all together.
“We had a lot of great guys on this team that really came together as well. When you’re having success it brings you even closer. I think in that sense, that’s why this year was so much fun, just what we had in this locker room.”
Eric Tillman can be credited for finding the talent, while Reed and his staff did well to get them all pulling in the same direction.
In the West Final, the Eskimos just ran into a better and more experienced club in the B.C. Lions, which in a sense, is easier to deal with the defeat.
“It is always tough when it comes to a screeching halt,” Ray said. “You’ve been going hard for six months and then you wake up and there’s no meetings, no practice, no game to play the next week. It definitely stings, especially being so close to get to the Grey Cup and not being able to make it.
“We were a lot of new guys coming together this year and we really came together as a team. Guys developed an understanding that this is what it’s all about. We’re not just a bunch of players running around out there, it’s more like a family and we definitely want to have that hunger next year coming back, that we want to be better than we were this year and want to build off this season.”