August 22, 2012

Dunk: Cobourne humbled and hungry


Avon Cobourne couldn’t do it.

The 33-year-old running back stepped in front of a gaggle of media members with his helmet strapped on and answered the first question he was asked from inside his bucket.

Ultimately, he couldn’t help but let the real Cobourne come out.

“That is kind of weird, hold on,“ Cobourne said as he slipped his helmet off, “I was trying to be weird but I can’t be weird, I’m not weird.”

It certainly has been an unusual 2012 campaign for Cobourne.  The two-time Grey Cup champion had started his post-CFL career selling insurance down in Florida. However, after free agent signee Martell Mallet, tabbed to be Hamilton’s starting running back to open the season, was lost for the year with a torn Achilles a week into training camp, Cobourne left his office job for a chance to extend his football life.

“That’s why I came up here, I came up here thinking I was going to play,” the seven-year Canadian Football League vet said.

Instead, Chevon Walker, Hamilton’s rookie with break neck speed, had an impressive training camp and showing in the Ticats two pre-season games, earning him the starting backfield job to open the season.
Cobourne was relegated to watching the Ticats first seven games in street clothes, as a healthy scratch.

“It’s definitely been humbling and it’s a shock to your body – especially when you always thought you were supposed to be the guy,” he said.

“It was different week one, week two,” Cobourne explained about getting used to being a backup, “But then I grasped the role and took it in. I tried to be that guy to help [Walker] out wherever I can and just take on that role with full responsibility.”

Walker started the first seven games of the season and has shown off his well-documented big play ability over that period, but suffered a lower body injury against the Blue Bombers in week 8, causing him to miss every practice in preparation for the Alouettes. The rookie’s injury opened the door for Cobourne to step in and make his first start of the season in Montreal.

“Avon will be the starting tailback,” head coach George Cortez said. If he’s not [ready] physically now, it won’t ever happen.”

The time off of the game day roster may have been a blessing in disguise for Cobourne. The 5-foot-8, 205-pound back didn’t put himself through his normal off-season training regimen and was not in the type of shape required to play a full 60 minutes.

“After that first pre-season game I knew my legs weren’t there,” Cobourne said. “I was slim when I got here, so I’ve been trying to beef up.  I’ve been doing my workouts and trying to get my body back in shape.”

According to teammate and Ticats quarterback Henry Burris, Cobourne has employed some different types of training techniques.

“He’s been doing the Body By Jake workout, the Body Blade and watching Jane Fonda videotapes, Burris said with a laugh and wide grin, “so we’ll see if Avon’s ready.”

“I don’t know what Body By Jake is,” replied Cobourne, “but if he’s on it I need to do it because he’s 63 years old and still going.”

Aside from the light-hearted ribbing, Cobourne does feel like he is back in game shape and proved that his burst is back in practice this week. Not to mention quickly building a solid backfield rapport with Burris and showing he indeed has fully learned the offence installed by Cortez.  

“He’s had a good week of practice. He knows the offence very well,” Hamilton’s bench boss said. “He understands the league. You don’t have to give a long explanation of why you want something done a certain way. He understands if you say wider on a route why you want it wider.”

For Cobourne, getting the opportunity to start again means a return to his usual loud and proud self on the field.

“Obviously when I’m out here playing I can be a little bit more vocal,” he said.

“He’s loud in the locker room,” Burris added. “The thing is, he’s a guy who backs up what he speaks. He motivates guys in different ways and when things seem a little thick he gets guys laughing.”

“To me, there’s a reason why the teams that he’s been on and played with have been successful.”

It appears that the typical Cobourne swagger is back and he’s starting to step his trash talking game up, practicing on his teammates to get ready for game day.

“When you’re around guys like Jamall Johnson and you get to beat him up most of the time in practice, it’s always awesome,” he quipped as Johnson was standing behind the media crowd watching Cobourne’s questioning period. “‘Hey how you doing buddy’,” Cobourne said as Johnson blew a kiss at his teammate.

All day, every day Cobourne would rather be lining up between the white lines instead of sitting behind a desk at a normal job.  So expect the boisterous back, who ranked third in the CFL last season with 1,420 yards from scrimmage, to make up for lost time with his mouth and performance level come game time against his old team in Montreal.