Pile latest Argo to go

Willie Pile, who was tabbed as being a big part of the Argos new-look defence, shocked the club by...

Willie Pile, who was tabbed as being a big part of the Argos new-look defence, shocked the club by announcing his retirement. (Sun files)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:03 PM ET

Completely out of the blue, the Double Blue must now deal with football life without Willie Pile.

With so much anticipation building for this coming season, an air of loss is definitely palpable in Argoland, an organization that prides itself, like most CFL franchises, on connecting with its fan base.

In Pile, there was no better ambassador for the Argos brand, no better promoter for football, no better person who had no reservations in donating his time to any cause.

The timing of Pile’s stunning announcement, which was made public by the Argos on Tuesday, could not have arrived a worst time with the team’s main camp just mere days away from opening.

Already this off-season, the team had to prepare minus Bryan Crawford, who announced his time in football had expired the day the Argos cleaned out their lockers.

When free agency kicked in, longtime Argo Kevin Eiben, who will one day be honoured as one of the greatest Argos ever, decided to take his class act to Hamilton.

The Argos would also see the departure of Byron Parker, yet another connection to the past and yet another valuable asset when players were asked to engage with fans.

The wear and tear of grinding it out in football’s trenches finally caught up with Rob Murphy, who announced his retirement last week, a decision many had envisioned.

With Pile, there was no writing on the wall, especially when one considers how this versatile defensive piece had eschewed free agency to sign up with the Argos at a time when the franchise was going to play host to the 100th Grey Cup.

On the surface, it underscores just how important it will be for someone on the Argos to step up and serve as a leader, especially on defence, a unit that will undergo dramatic change in personnel and philosophy under Chris Jones.

As dominant as Ricky Foley can be when he’s attacking from the edge and playing with an edge, it’ll be asking too much of this York product to fill in as a leader.

There are quiet leaders such as Kevin Huntley aboard, but no one knows with any degree of certainty how Huntley, who is coming off a injury-plagued season where he persevered through a lot of discomfort, will respond to Jones’ style of defence.

Jason Pottinger is more than capable of filling in for Eiben, but at the same time Pottinger is coming off knee surgery.

Jordan Younger now looms as an even bigger piece, one of the few holdovers on defence who will now be asked to shoulder more of a burden, from a playing and leadership perspective.

In five years in the CFL, Pile played his entire career in Toronto, playing safety and linebacker, making just as many tackles as he made friends in the GTA.

In football, players are a commodity, plain and simple, but some come along who embrace the CFL spirit and genuinely enjoy it.

Given their connection to the actual game and its roots, it’s common for Canadian players to throw their support behind any cause.

When it comes to Americans, there are as many disingenuous players as there are legit.

Pile truly cared, which is why Tuesday’s development, on the eve of rookie camp no less, came as such a surprise, completely out of nowhere.

“As I turn the calendar page to the 32nd year of my life, I have also decided to turn a page on my career and retire from professional football,’’ began Pile in a prepared statement released by the Argos. “Although I have been preparing extremely hard for the opportunity to compete to hoist the Grey Cup in the great city of Toronto this season, the circumstances and the timing surrounding my decision have been very challenging.

“I am fully confident that this is the best decision for my family and I at this time. I want to thank my family, my wife and my son, my close friends, my mentors and all my teammates who supported me as I pursued my goal to play the game. I also want to thank the entire Toronto Argonauts organization, the Double Blue Argonauts fans, the city of Toronto, and the Canadian Football League for breathing new life into my football career and for embracing me as one of your own.”

Willie Pile was no Willie Pless, but he was far from a pile of you know what.

The guy could play, could still play and would have been a key weapon in Jones’ attacking defence.

In 2010 and ’11, Pile was voted defensive captain by his teammates.

He was very effective on special teams and would basically line up anywhere on the field to help the Argos win.

Off the field, Pile endeared himself with his trademark big smile, warm heart and giving personality.

He would take whatever time was needed to sign autographs and served as an ambassador for the team’s Level the Playing Field program.

 

 

TICATS ADD SIX

The Tiger-Cats were on the prowl Tuesday, adding a six pack of imports to their roster as rookie camp beckons.

Branndon Braxton, Nick Fanuzzi, Alex Henderson, Shawn Abuhoff, Craig Ray and Brandon Boudreaux may not make it to this weekend’s main camp, but they’ll at least be given a shot.

The most intriguing name appears to be Braxton, who gives the Ticats another potential import option on the offensive line.

A 6-foot-6, 315-pound product of football factory Oklahoma, Braxton spent time with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns.

Fanuzzi is a 6-foot-4, 220-pound quarterback out of Rice, where he ended his career as the school’s leader in pass completions.

Henderson, a running back from Northern Arizona, may ring a bell to some after he attended Winnipeg’s camp last year.

Abuhoff and Ray line up in the secondary, while Boudreaux is a defensive lineman.


Videos

Photos