Brandon Burks watched the CFL free agent chips fall into place in February and aside from being one of them, he was just like the rest of us.
The 25-year-old running back inked a deal on Feb. 4 to stay with the Toronto Argonauts through the 2020 season. When the market opened up eight days later, he was surprised at what he saw.
The Argos loaded up at Burks’ spot. Joining him and the incumbent starter, James Wilder Jr. were free agents Mercer Timmis and veterans Chris Rainey and Tyrell Sutton. Including Dexter McCluster and Kelvin Taylor, the Argos went into training camp this year with seven running backs on the roster.
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Almost three-and-a-half months later, Burks is the Argos’ starting running back. Wilder’s injury situation has given way to a stalemate that has seen him listed as a game-time scratch the last two weeks. Timmis retired, Sutton, McCluster and Taylor were cut and Chris Rainey has spread his time between running back and return duties.
“When you see that many running backs, you know nobody’s spot is secure, whether you’ve got a contract or not,” Burks said after Thursday’s practice.
“…What went through my mind was that right now, I couldn’t think about that. I just had to put my focus on what I could do and what I could do better.”
While Burks shared the field during portions of Thursday’s practice with Wilder, he anticipates getting the start in Hamilton for Mark’s Labour Day game against the Ticats. He hasn’t had a breakthrough game yet, running for no more than 43 yards in a game this season, but the second-year Argo pulled in his first career CFL touchdown on a pass against Edmonton in Week 10.
“Personally, work ethic-wise I feel like I’m doing great. I keep my focus maintained and keep pushing,” Burks said.
“As a team I feel like we’ve come a long way. We’ve had ups and downs but I feel like we’re going to get a positive outcome.”
In their 1-8 season, wins have been tough to hold on to. Since Sunday’s heartbreaker in Moncton against Montreal, there’s been a lot of talk about could have/should have games that would have the Argos at around four or five wins. Burks is only looking forward and trying to salvage a season that’s getting away from him and his team.
“These next couple of games (will determine) our playoffs or not,” he said.
“So we’ve really got to focus on how bad we want it. I can’t speak for everybody but I definitely want to go to the playoffs. I definitely want to keep running. I don’t want it to be the end of the year.”
Very few people at the start of the season would have pegged Burks as the team’s starting running back. Similarly, expectations are low for the Argos as they head into the second half of the season. Burks would love to surprise people once more this year.
“The thing I always say is that we have the second part of practice. That second part of practice is like the game, that second half is what’s going to finish it. The rhythm that we have in practice is what we have to take into the game.”