Like most athletes who play whatever sport at whatever level, Chad Owens began the year with a list of goals he’d like to achieve.
Naturally and predictably, the ultimate goal is to emerge with a Grey Cup win, but individual battles must first be won and personal achievements need to be accomplished.
In Owens’ case, one of his objectives was to post a 1,000-yard receiving season, a goal he can reach as early as this Sunday when the Argos travel to Montreal to face the Als in a battle for first in the East.
For those unaware of Owens’ road in three-down football, it began in Montreal at a time when the Als were loaded at the receiving position, an area so stacked in quality that Owens never did get the necessary break anyone needs to showcase their talent.
“I remember how much we liked him,’’ began Argos head coach Scott Milanovich, who served as an Als assistant when Owens was on the practice roster biding his time.
“I remember he was there for a year and for training camp.
“There was one year (2009) where he got to play in one game. It was against Toronto, it would be the last game of the season with Montreal already clinching first. The team decided to bring some guys along for that Week 18 game. He did a nice job.”
From nice to elite, the evolution of Owens, the receiver, has been nothing short of spectacular, a growth so improbable that many in the CFL remain in disbelief when they watch Owens make plays on offence.
About the only one who isn’t surprised is the man himself.
Almost as unlikely has been the veritable wasteland of receivers the Argos have used in the past few years.
Heading into this week’s CFL play, only Montreal’s S.J. Green has gained more yards as a receiver (953) than Owens (938). When he eclipses the 1,000-yard barrier, Owens, incredibly, will be the first Argo in four years to hit the measuring stick for pass catchers.
Arland Bruce III last turned the trick in Argoland, where finding receivers has been as elusive as acquiring a legitimate quarterback.
It goes without saying that the two go hand in hand and in Ricky Ray and Owens, there aren’t many quarterback-receiving tandems that’s as good as Toronto’s combo.
In the past three games, Owens has caught a total of 25 catches for 350 yards, while producing two touchdowns.
Not even Milanovich could have envisioned the presence Owens would have when lining up on offence.
And to think Owens is far from a finished product. He still occasionally drops a ball and his relative inexperience at the slot means he’s still learning the nuances of route running and setting up a defensive back.
“There were a lot of receivers on that team,’’ Milanovich said of the 2009 Als. “He just didn’t catch a break at that point.
“I don’t know if anyone saw him become the factor he has become, but he was respected as a receiver.”
He’s now feared and opposing teams, predictably, have to double team Owens.
When the Argos beat the Als in Montreal in late July, the home side tried to play man coverage against Owens, who torched his former team by producing two touchdowns.
Whether it’s irony, whether it’s only fitting, Owens should become the first Argo to post a 1,000-yard receiving season since Bruce.
“It was one of the individual goals I set aside,’’ said Owens. “Whether it was to prove the naysayers wrong or not, I just wanted the rest of the league to know that I could do it.
“I’m honoured to be on the cusp and I’m extremely proud. It’s a testament to our offence. To think no one has reached the 1,000-yard level in four years shows you that the Toronto Argonauts franchise has taken the right steps.”
As fate would have it, Owens’ first step came against Toronto back in Week 18 in 2009.
“I had a decent kickoff return and a punt return,’’ he said. “I had one pass. I was recovering from an ACL injury and I tweaked it that game. It turned out to be scar tissue, but all I kept thinking was to get through the game.
“For me, it was just great to be out there because you just don’t know your future (in the wake of a serious knee injury). It was very gratifying to be back out there.”
OWENS HAVIN' A GRAND OL' TIME!
Chad Owens spent just enough time in Montreal to appreciate what a bona fide passing game involved.
No system can function without an elite quarterback and in Anthony Calvillo, the Als had an all-time great.
In Toronto, two-time Grey Cup champion Ricky Ray is running the show and the Argos have shown glimpses of establishing an effective passing game. Offensively, the team has been inconsistent, but in Owens, that long-awaited go-to guy has been secured.
“When you get to the point where you have three or four, you know you have a good team,’’ said Owens of the importance of fielding 1,000-yard receivers, a distinction that awaits the third-year Argo.
“That’s what the Montreals have been doing the last few years. That’s what we’re trying to get to.”
Barring an injury, Owens will become the first Argo receiver with 1,000 yards in four years, which is remarkable given the pass-happy nature of three-down football. When informed of the period of futility, rookie Argos head coach Scott Milanovich was in near shock.
“You’d better have one, if not two or three,’’ he said. “I set the standard a little higher. You’d better have a couple or you’re not throwing the ball well.
“The standard is higher than 1,000, maybe 1,200 or 1,300. You get 1,000 yards and you’re having a good year. Part of it is staying healthy long enough to have it.
“If he (Owens) stays healthy, he’ll go way over 1,000.”
Owens needs 62 yards to reach the 1,000-yard receiving total.
In an earlier meeting in Montreal, Owens caught seven passes for 97 yards and scored two touchdowns, both produced in the first half when the Als went with a lot of man coverage.
As a returner, Owens is still waiting for his first major.
In fact, his last return for a touchdown came in Montreal last season when he fielded a punt at midfield and somehow eluded five tacklers.