July 6, 2007

Acree is making the most of a fresh start

By Mike Beamish,
Vancouver Sun

The boys from Boise State, undersized and often overlooked, pulled off one of the most improbable finishes in college football this year.

A hook and ladder play. A touchdown pass from a receiver. The Statue of Liberty deception. Every trick in the book, some going back to Pop Warner, was used to upset Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.

In some respects, receiver Thaddeus John (T.J.) Acree, a third-year CFL player now with the Edmonton Eskimos, is a personification of his under-appreciated alma mater.

Undersized, overlooked, a walk-on at Boise State who didn’t receive a scholarship until this third year, Acree spent two seasons with the B.C. Lions largely ignored, except when his name appeared in the news for the wrong reasons.

Today, Acree sits near the top of the CFL pass-receiving tables, trailing only the great Milt Stegall of Winnipeg, after catching nine balls for 123 yards in Edmonton’s 39-39 tie last week with the Blue Bombers.

It may be no more than the football gods have winked at Acree for one game. Then again, at 24 he could be an agent of change in the Edmonton youth movement, which moves forward against the Lions tonight at BC Place.

“Obviously, Boise State got their just due and showed people what they can do,” Acree said after a workout Thursday. “The similarity is there.”

The tendency, however, is to think Acree got here through some sleight of hand, much like his old college team. Much-decorated pass catchers Derrell (Mookie) Mitchell and Ed Hervey are no longer Eskimos, but T.J. is. It just doesn’t figure.

Acree spent his first season with the Lions, 2005, on the practice roster, got into just eight games last year, before his agent got nowhere with Lions GM Wally Buono on writing up a contract renewal. That’s when the Eskimos, who had hired Jacques Chapdelaine away from the Lions to be their offensive coordinator, began to show more than a passing interest.

“I knew he [Acree] was going to have a good grasp of this offence, just by playing in it for the past two years,” says Eskimos quarterback Ricky Ray. “He didn’t have to get adjusted to the new things we’re doing, the new terminology. He knows how to run the routes in our playbook. I’m a little bit surprised by him but, then, not too surprised either.”

The move to Edmonton has paid immediate dividends for Acree, who has a familiarity with Chapdelaine not enjoyed by any other Eskimo.

“How would I describe Jacques’ system?” Acree says. “There’s just an answer for everything. If the guy going deep isn’t open, another guy is. If the guy breaking in isn’t open, another guy is. He’s so detail-oriented. And I can see where he’s going with his concepts.”

Chapdelaine says: “I always liked what T.J. could do in B.C. It wasn’t a hard decision. We looked at the folks we had on the [depth] chart. And we felt he was a guy we needed to contact.”

Not only has Acree moved on in his football career, he’s also put some distance between himself and a police incident, last August, that gave him the notoriety he sought as a CFL player — for all the wrong reasons.

He was Tasered — immobilized by a hand-held weapon that uses a jolt of electricity — after Vancouver police were called to a fight on Thurlow Street. According to police, Acree was stopped while walking away for the scene. He resented the unwarranted publicity, he says, and considered filing charges for excessive use of force.

“I was victimized,” Acree maintains. “But it’s over. I’m trying to put it out of my mind and move forward.” The early indications look promising.