EDMONTON - Before Jerome Messam made his decision to go to the NFL training camp of the Miami Dolphins, the head coach who gave him personal one-on-one every-day tough love mentoring had a long conversation with him.
Kavis Reed explained the realities to the young man he picked up off football’s refuse pile of unemployables and provided with opportunity which turned into a Gibson’s Finest CFL Award as most outstanding Canadian player.
You would have figured Messam would have such a debt of gratitude to Reed and the Eskimos he wouldn’t have even contemplated playing football anywhere else, ever.
“The conversation Jerome and I had was about the Miami roster and their five running backs including one — Reggie Bush — coming off a very big year with $5 million of guaranteed money coming to him. I wanted to make sure he knew what the realistic chances were of his making their roster.”
Somewhere between slim and nil?
“I was open and candid. I told him he was a long shot.”
Reed had been there and done that before becoming an Eskimo.
“I went to camp with the Kansas City Chiefs essentially as cannon fodder.”
That said, Reed didn’t in any way suggest to Messam, who didn’t get a dime in a signing bonus, not to go.
“I knew in his heart he wanted to give it a try. I didn’t want him to have any regrets or to have any animosity against us by trying to stop him,” he said.
Thursday Messam returned to the Eskimos dressing room, where his name and number were on his old stall, then joined the team on the practice field. He was given no real shot by the Dolphins, while he missed eight pay cheques on the contract he has in Edmonton.
Messam had an hour-long heart-to-heart with Reed prior to his meeting with the media.
It wasn’t for Reed to say ‘I told you so.’
“It hasn’t changed,” he said of Messam returning to the same sort of mentoring on which his 195-carry, 1,057-yard season was built.
“I’m going to remain his best champion,” said the head coach who will make Messam earn his reps and his place all over again.
“He has to re-establish himself. I’m going to give him every opportunity to work himself back into the fold. He hasn’t really played any football in the last calendar year.
“He has two advantages — his size and his citizenship — in being a ratio-changer. But Hugh Charles has done a remarkable job and you have to be fair to those players,” he said of Charles and Cory Boyd.
Reed said he’ll definitely return to the same relationship.
“Jerome has a really big heart. And he does know right from wrong. Decisions he’s made could have been a lot better,” he said of the guy who who punched out B.C. Lions’ teammate Paris Jackson in a dispute over a parking pass last year, a player who was suspended from the Lions’ training camp 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.
Messam has a real chance now that he’s back here to return to being a star in the CFL, to become part of a community, become a role model and make a name and a life for himself here that could last a lifetime.
“That was the topic we discussed for about an hour,” said Reed.
“In Miami, over five years, maybe he could make about $1.5 million. But in that culture, who knows, he might have spent it all. Here in the next five years he could make maybe $500,000 but build a place in a community that will last him a long time.
“I told him this is the perfect place for him to be. It’s a place where he could live happily ever after.”
Messam came down to the dressing room and certainly said all the right things in reintroducing himself to the media.
“It feels good being back in Edmonton. I’m happy to be here and I’m real excited to get going,” he said.
“It’s a great city. I love the organization. I love my teammates. I’m confident and excited to get back in action.
“I learned a lot, got some great coaching, got to speak to some good vets who have been in the game a long time at my position and learned new things to make myself a better football player. It wasn’t the right fit. But I feel good that I took the opportunity and took the chance without later on in life having to live with regrets and having to deal with what ifs.
“But now I’m back in Edmonton and Edmonton is a great place for me to be.”