Ralph part of the Fab Five

JOSH WEBSTER -- SLAM! Sports

, Last Updated: 6:00 PM ET

When the Edmonton Eskimos signed Derrell "Mookie" Mitchell at the beginning of training camp, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that the club would have one of the best receiving corps in the CFL this season.

Heck, they already had a strong unit to begin with, with the likes of Terry Vaughn, Ed Hervey and Jason Tucker back in the fold. Last season the Eskimos were one of only three teams to break the 5,000 receiving yards mark, and look poised to do it again in 2004.

Brock Ralph was simply an afterthought to those forecasting the potential of Vaughn et al. But not anymore.

Seven games into the season, Ralph has shown he is one of quarterback Jason Maas' favourite targets. The Raymond, AB native is currently third in team receiving yardage behind Tucker and Vaughn. Not bad for a Canadian in only his second CFL season.

"I've been very happy with the opportunity I've had this year, to be able to line up as a receiver for this team," expressed Ralph prior to the Eskimos' recent loss to the Toronto Argonauts.

Rather than take any credit for his success, Ralph praised his teammates for allowing him the opportunity to make plays on the field.

"Them being so good and getting so much attention, I feel like maybe I feed off that a little bit too and it's easy to go out there and find some openings when guys like that are so tough to contain," acknowledged Ralph.

It was easy to dismiss Ralph as a token Canuck during training camp. Because teams have to dress 19 non-imports, many Canadian receivers are on CFL rosters throughout the land, but not all get an opportunity to showcase their skills once the regular season arrives.

In Ralph's case, he was coming off a 2003 season cut short by a broken collarbone, limiting him to only seven games, mostly on special teams. The jury was still out on him, but that is not to say the Eskimos didn't have high hopes for the University of Wyoming product.

Originally drafted by the Ottawa Renegades 13th overall in the 2002 CFL Canadian college draft, the Eskimos traded away their 17th selection a year later to acquire Ralph's services.

Today Ralph is proving he belongs in the CFL. With over 360 receiving yards so far this season (compared to only 20 last year), it is a significant contribution to say the least.

"This isn't brag, I just think that there is not a finer receiving corps in the CFL, and that's including Brock Ralph," praised Eskimos head coach Tom Higgins. "He had a year last year that was growing pains. It's like anybody making the jump from high school to university -- same thing from university to the professional level -- and it served him very well because he came back with renewed confidence. He's married, he's now a dad, all those things add to the maturity level of any young man."

"Now all of a sudden he makes us as good of a receiving corps as there is in the CFL. We always knew he was fast, he has good hands, he runs very good routes, and so when you have an Ed Hervey, a Jason Tucker, a Terry Vaughn and a Derrell "Mookie" Mitchell added with a Brock Ralph who is very unselfish and runs well and fits in with the group, that's a pretty awesome group of five."

Ralph can only benefit from playing with such a veteran crew.

"I've already learned a lot, but it continues to just progress," explained Ralph. "I'm still so young and so new to this league that every practice, every game there is something else that I'm learning from these guys. We've got a very unselfish group of four older guys that are willing to take the time to show some of us young guys the ropes. A lot of good advice and things come from them being so unselfish."

Some players go their entire career without a shot at a title. For Ralph, he got to experience a Grey Cup championship first hand in 2003, albeit from the sidelines. Ralph clearly sees the silver lining in that predicament.

"It was very frustrating," admitted Ralph. "Last year was an exciting year to be a part of it like I was. I think unless you're out on the field contributing, it's hard to really feel the same way about actually contributing. I think that obviously everything happens for a reason, and I feel like maybe that's part of the reason where I'm at this year is it gave me a longer time to sit back and look at things mentally and made me a little hungrier when I got healthy to put some time into the off-season, and do what I needed to do to come ready to play and contribute this year."

* * *

Instead of running pass patterns on the turf of Commonwealth Stadium, Ralph could have been rounding the basepaths at Camden Yards.

Ralph was chosen twice by the Baltimore Orioles in the MLB draft, and although he fully intended to go to the University of Wyoming on a football scholarship, the Orioles situation was one that eventually intrigued him.

The Orioles originally drafted Ralph in the 45th round after his senior year of high school. The following year, without picking up a bat or glove, he was selected in the 15th round, after showing more interest in pursuing a baseball career. There was a fork in the road, and Ralph had to choose which path to take.

"It was a real tough decision and a lot of sleepless nights," admitted Ralph. "When it came down to it I just had to go with my heart and really I'm happy where I am right now. I guess in the back of your mind you're kind of always wondering but it's not something that I think about regularly."

His commitment to the gridiron gave him a unique opportunity to play with his two brothers at Wyoming. Both his younger brother Brett and his older brother Dustin played with Brock during the 2000 season.

"It was a great experience and something that none of us were really counting on or expecting," said Brock. "It just kind of happened one step at a time. I didn't get a lot of time down there with both of them, but we've been huge supporters of each other. We've played with each other growing up in all sorts of different sports, so to be able to continue it at a little higher level, it was something I think we all enjoyed."

"Sometimes you take things for granted and you don't realize how special some opportunities like that are. But we all had a lot of fun doing it, and like I said, we're just each other's biggest supporters. It's neat for us to be able to do that with each other."

Dustin and Brett now play at the University of Alberta. All together, there are six children in the Ralph family.

"It just kind of seems like we follow each other around," said Brock. "But it's important to us. That's what's so nice about me being back in Alberta and around all my family because that's just how we are. We like to be around each other, we like to support each other, and that's given me that opportunity."

If Dustin and Brett show any potential like their brother, perhaps there will be another reunion with the Eskimos in the not too distant future. One thing is for sure -- the way Brock is playing, he will be in Edmonton for a long time.


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