Uprooted Ray a reluctant saviour

The Toronto Argonauts introduced their new quarterback, Rick Ray Dec. 14, 2011. (MICHAEL PEAKE/QMI...

The Toronto Argonauts introduced their new quarterback, Rick Ray Dec. 14, 2011. (MICHAEL PEAKE/QMI Agency)

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:45 PM ET

TORONTO - This isn't Ricky Ray's first big-city rodeo.

The quarterback went to the Big Apple and back long before the idea of Ray playing in Toronto was even a germ of an idea in anyone's head.

But it was impossible to escape the initial reluctance that Ray felt in the wake of the trade, as he spoke to the assembled media Wednesday high above the city of Toronto in the Horizon's Cafe midway up the CN Tower.

The new face of the organization and the starting quarterback of the 2012 Toronto Argonauts is obviously still coming to grips with leaving the Edmonton Eskimos, the only CFL team he has played for.

Ray, 32, and with nine seasons in Edmonton on his resume, learned only on Sunday that his fate was going to change drastically when he got a call from Eskimos coach Kavis Reed.

So, there hasn't been a whole lot of time to let this digest.

Ray officially became an Argo on Monday. He was traded by the Esks for quarterback Steven Jyles, punter Grant Shaw and the second overall pick in the coming CFL draft.

Until that phone rang though, Ray was expecting to be one of those rare pro athletes who spends his entire career -- give or take a side trip to New York City -- in one market.

He talked about it as recently as locker-cleanout day in Edmonton, and that was less than a month ago.

Ray had left Edmonton before, back in 2004 when the lure of the NFL was just too much and he signed with the New York Jets. That season Ray dressed for all of six games, never throwing a pass and was back with Edmonton in 2005.

When he describes leaving Edmonton he uses the word "tough." He's not completely reluctant to let go of his Eskimos ties, but watching him on the podium you get the distinct feeling that, were it his choice, this move never would have been made.

"I haven't had a chance to do much of anything," he said when asked about the past few days. "It's going to be tough saying goodbye to all the guys I played with in Edmonton, but now I have an opportunity to play with some guys that I have been playing against and not liking very much over my career. I'm looking forward to that."

His body language screams "Edmonton forever" but his words suggest he has made the jump to Argo from Eskimo.

"You just realize it's part of the game," Ray said of being uprooted on someone else's say so. "As much as you want to be in one place as long as you can, with sports nowadays guys move around and you wind up playing for different teams. My time just came later than most."

This is not to suggest Ray was sulking about the move, just dealing with the natural adjustment a change like this would have on anyone, whether a professional football player or an accountant.

Ray did mention his wife would really enjoy living in a large market like Toronto, even if Ray himself was still pining for the quieter setting in Edmonton. He just figures it will take him a little time.

"Edmonton definitely has that small town feel," he said. "Coming out here there's definitely a lot more going on. I was able to spend a year in New York with the Jets so I've been exposed to a big place with a lot going on and a lot of media. That should make coming here a little easier."

Ray's arrival immediately moves Toronto from the back of the CFL bus to, at worst, contender status, although there remains plenty of work to do on the actual roster.

New head coach Scott Milanovich has surrounded himself with contemporaries he trusts and respects in former Stamps defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones and former Montreal offensive line coach Jonathan Himebauch who comes to Toronto as the offensive co-ordinator.

Ray is the most important piece of the puzzle that group will try to mould into a championship, but the quarterback himself is the first to admit, he's still only one piece.

"I definitely don't want to get to feeling that way," Ray said when asked if he was starting to feel like everyone had him pegged as the team saviour. "No one guy is going to come in and be the answer to everything. They are building a good coaching staff, we're going to have a good team and we all have to do it together. That's what I tell myself. I'm just one piece of the puzzle."

Yes, just one, but none who come after him will be close to having the impact on the game that he will.

mike.ganter@sunmedia.ca


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