“It took a long time to get over what happened. It was really tough to wash things away. It really didn’t go away until we started camp this year.”
Jerome Messam had the best season of his CFL career in 2016 followed by one of his worst winters.
“It was long. It was terribly long,” Messam said.
The Calgary Stampeder running back led the league last year with 1,198 rushing yards, 206 carries and 11 touchdowns. His average of 5.8 yards a carry was the most of any back with 70 or more rushes.
Messam was selected a CFL all-star and named the league’s Most Outstanding Canadian. But the one prize he wanted most, the chance to be part of a Grey Cup champion for the first time in his seven-year career, ended in frustration when the Stampeders were upset 39-33 in overtime by the Ottawa REDBLACKS.
“It took a long time to get over what happened,” said Messam. “It was really tough to wash things away. It really didn’t go away until we started camp this year.”
The Stampeders finished 2016 with a 15-2-1 record. They led the league in points scored (586), fewest allowed (369) and sacks given up (20). As impressive as the Stamps were on the field they will be remembered as one of those great teams who couldn’t win the one game that really counted.
Erasing that perception has given the Stampeders some extra motivation heading into the 2017 campaign.
“Guys feel like we came up short,” said Messam. “We feel like we have a lot of the same guys on the team that played in that game.
“We are always focused (but) like I said, it’s about setting new goals and playing at a high level.”
Personally, Messam believes he can improve on the numbers he put up last year.
“I just set new goals for myself,” said the six-foot-three, 254-pound native of Brampton, Ont. “I want to be consistent, that’s the main thing.
“In professional sports consistency is the No. 1 thing to keep your job and keep playing at a high level. That’s the main focus for me right now. Continue to set new goals that I can reach and then just work hard to obtain everything.”
Consistency has also been a trademark of the Stampeders. Since 2008 Calgary has finished either first or second in the West eight times. During that same span, the Stampeders have played in four Grey Cups, winning two.
Every franchise experiences ebbs and flows in success. Messam realizes the Stampeders’ window of success has been open for a long time.
“Hopefully it can keep going on the way it has,” he said. “Obviously football is a game where guys move around a lot, guys get injured. It’s an interesting opportunity each year. You get a group of guys that come in and shoot for the same goals.
“Our nucleus is here but a lot of our guys are veterans and have been playing for a long time. Hopefully we can it done in the next few years.”
Messam, who turned 32 in April, isn’t worried about the sand trickling through his hour glass.
“I don’t have that much mileage on my body,” he said. “I feel great, I feel young.
“Age is just a number in my mindset. As long as I can play at a high level I will be playing football.”
One of the players who has stood out at the Stampeders’ training camp is running back Terry Williams, a versatile 25-year-old who can also return punts and kicks.
Where Messam uses his size and power to steamroll over tacklers, Williams is an elusive runner with explosive speed.
“He runs hard and he’s very strong,” said Messam. “I think it gives defenses a different look. They will have to scheme us a little bit different.”
Some light shone into Messam’s long, dark winter with the birth of his daughter Jaia on Christmas day.
“It’s just a little bit more motivation,” he said about being a father. “She helps me to keep my eye on the ball. It’s somebody else I have to go out there and work for.”
With Jaia and her mother Gillian remaining in Toronto, Messam is learning what it’s like being separated from a family.
“This is my first time being away from her,” he said. “I’ve been in the league for eight years now. This is my first experience of what other guys have to experience, guys that are from the States and what not.”
For most of his career Messam has been a nomad. He broke into the league with the B.C. Lions in 2010, then was traded to Edmonton in 2011. That year he became the first Canadian in 11 years to rush for over 1,000 yards.
He started 2012 with the NFL Miami Dolphins, was released and returned to Edmonton. The Eskimos traded Messam to Montreal in 2013 where he played 15 games while battling injury and was released at the end of the season.
Saskatchewan signed him in 2014, but he was traded to Calgary in 2015 as part of the Riders’ housecleaning.
Starting his third season in Calgary, Messam feels like he’s finally found a home.
“I’m comfortable here,” he said. “I love the coaching staff. I love my teammates.
“They make me feel at home as far as the role I play on team on the field and being a leader off the field.”
One role Messam takes seriously is trying to mentor the younger players.
“It’s funny to see all the similarities of the young guys that I had when I came in,” he said. “It’s interesting to kind of help them, try to get them ahead of the curve with things I didn’t know coming in.
“If I see them making a mistake, if I can help them out before they make it, that’s what I’m going to do.”