August 25, 2011

Zwelling: Arthur aims to add to his trophy case

Arden Zwelling

Even though her son Jabari moved out years ago, Genise Arthur has diligently maintained his small trophy case in her Montreal home.

There are the countless trophies from when Jabari was young, playing minor football in Montreal and through the CEGEP system. A bit further down are the gloves he wore when he caught his first NCAA touchdown for the University of Akron.

Next to those are a different set of gloves, the ones Arthur wore when he set a Motor City Bowl receiving record in 2005, hauling in eight passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns to break the bowl record previously held by Randy Moss.

And last week Jabari stopped by to drop off one more memento for Genise to proudly display on the mantle — the ball he caught for his first CFL touchdown.

“She was excited about that,” the Stampeders wide receiver said after practice earlier this week as Calgary prepares to host the Alouettes this Saturday. “She took the ball and put it right there on the mantle — next to a picture of my dad.”

The trophy case is a crowded piece of real estate — but for all the awards and souvenirs on the mantle, that picture may be the most important. Arthur’s father, Hollis, succumbed to cancer nearly a decade ago after a long career as a welder.

Arthur dedicated his first college touchdown to Hollis and when he hauled in a 23-yard pass for his first professional touchdown on Aug. 12 vs. the Roughriders he said that one was for his old man as well.

Trophies and records are great — but it’s the moments like those Arthur savours most.

“When it’s all said and done, those are pivotal moments of my career and it will be nice to look back on,” Arthur said after returning home to see family during the Stampeders’ bye week. “There’s a whole bunch of good memories.”

Arthur is simply hoping the good memories keep coming after his break-out game against the Roughriders when he caught seven passes for 92 yards in the most productive 60 minutes of his four-year CFL career.

Simply getting to this point has been a lengthy journey as Arthur has taken a winding path to the pros over the last four seasons and is just now becoming a consistent threat at wide receiver.

Arthur was Calgary’s first-round pick in 2007 but opted to return for his senior year at Akron where he set school records with 184 receptions and 2,653 yards. He then spent most of what would have been his rookie CFL season in 2008 south of the border trying out for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Arthur was one of the final cuts at the Chiefs training camp and joined the Stamps in September; he appeared in just four regular season games — mostly on special teams — and dressed for the West Final and the Stampeders’ Grey Cup win but rarely saw the field.

Arthur was expected to see more game time in 2009 but a broken foot sidelined him before the season even began. Then mid-way through the year he was dealt to the Blue Bombers as part of a six-player deal that included Odell Willis. Winnipeg re-evaluated Arthur and determined he needed surgery on his foot, immediately putting an ending his season.

Arthur started 2010 with the Bombers looking to make amends for 2009’s lost season but found himself released in July as Winnipeg simply ran out of room on its roster. That’s when the Stampeders called and offered Arthur a position on the practice roster and the opportunity to compete for a backup role at wide receiver.

Arthur earned a spot and finally, more than three years after he was drafted, caught his first CFL pass on Aug. 15, 2010, a seven-yard reception against the Eskimos.

It would take two weeks for the next catch and another two weeks for his third, but slowly Arthur started building momentum, seeing more of the ball and showing flashes of the potential that made him a first-round pick.

That momentum reached a pinnacle against the Roughriders two weeks ago when Arthur put up 92 yards, just two shy of his entire receiving yardage from 2010. Now, with four frustrating years of starts and stalls behind him, the trick is to keep the momentum going.

“I wouldn’t say I’ve had a bad luck career, but I did have a few setbacks in the beginning,” Arthur said. “But now that I’m healthy and everything is coming together I’m definitely excited to see where I can take this. Hopefully it continues for the rest of my career.”

No one doubts Arthur’s ability to forge a successful career and so far in 2011 he seems to be putting the pieces together. In just three games this season Arthur has already eclipsed the passing totals he put up in 14 contests last year. And at 6’4”, 219 lbs., he has been a physical threat in close quarters in the red zone.

But maybe Arthur’s most valuable trait sits above his broad shoulders. The 28-year-old is a converted quarterback, forced out of his job under centre after his second year at Akron and pushed into a role as a receiver.

The transition was uneasy at first as Arthur had never played an offensive position other than quarterback and was accustomed to reading every element of every play on every down. But that initial awkwardness turned out to be a blessing in disguise as his football acumen became a dangerous weapon in his new role as a receiver.

Now, every time he looks at a play or a route, Arthur’s mind immediately fills with the possibilities the opposition can use to defend it. While a simple crossing route is just that for a purebred receiver, the route becomes a complex game of chess for Arthur who is constantly searching for the small layer or hole in a defence that can be exploited.

That’s why quarterbacks like Arthur so much — he thinks the same way they do and always finds his way to the best possible position.

“I’ve really continued to learn the playbook as a quarterback,” Arthur said. “It helps when you’re trying to think about what the defence is doing and knowing what kind of different routes you can run against them. It makes you more versatile.”

Versatility, ability, intelligence — these traits have never been an issue with Arthur. Durability, on the other hand, has so far been the Achilles’ heel to his career.

There was the entire year missed with a broken foot in 2009 and this season there was the nagging hamstring injury that held him out of action until late July. That’s why Arthur hardly hesitates when asked what he needs to do to continue to have success this year.

“The biggest thing for me is to stay healthy,” Arthur said. “My goal every year is to try to get a little bit better and try to get on the same page as everybody else. So obviously when you’re not healthy that can’t happen.

“That was a major setback when I broke my foot. That was really bad. But I came back in last year and got involved a little bit with the offence and I’m healthy this year and so far it’s coming together.”

It might be the only thing between Arthur and a bigger trophy case.