It’s a toss-up as to what is sharper. Walter Fletcher’s mind, or his cuts on a football field.
The 25-year-old Montreal Alouettes running back has a master’s degree in coaching and if that doesn’t tell you how smart he is, a short phone conversation about football and self-awareness will definitely turn the trick.
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Ahead of this Sunday’s Eastern Final, Fletcher had some ideas on the psychology of the game, a well-defined awareness of where he stands in the scheme of things and, heck, even some thoughts on the blades of grass at BMO Field and how they might likely affect his running style this weekend.
“Gives them an edge,” said Fletcher of the Toronto Argonauts and their natural grass field, the only one of its kind in the CFL.
“You have to wear the right cleats on that field,” he continued. “It’s near the water. And when you’re positioned near the water, a lot of the grass is really soft. And it’s moist.”
Thoughtful man, that Walter Fletcher.
His analysis of the conditions he’ll face at BMO Field went beyond just what kind of footwear he’ll need, in case you were thinking that’s pretty obvious stuff. Fletcher is thinking about running style, too. He’s reminding himself that he’ll need to be a little more on his toes, literally, whenever he lugs the rock over those lush, moist blades of grass.
“One thing I have to keep in mind is don’t try to make too many big cuts,” said Fletcher, who has been known to, ‘break ankles’ with some pretty radical, crowd-pleasing, high-speed changes of direction.
“Another thing is keeping your shoulders over your toes. Make sure you’re not running on your heels because that does give you a chance to slip.”
Just how instrumental Fletcher will be on Sunday is anyone’s guess, but the smart money would be on him being pretty impactful in a backfield that will see him and William Stanback behind or beside quarterback Trevor Harris a lot of the time.
In last week’s Eastern Semi-Final Fletcher’s playmaking ability popped as he rushed seven times for 77 yards. Including a 33-yard touchdown run that showcased his speed to the outside, his hard-cutting abilities, and was capped by some bullying physicality as he forced his way into the end zone for the score.
After a good rookie season with the Edmonton Elks in 2021, Fletcher found himself dealt to the Alouettes this past June, shortly after the regular season had begun. The Als had just lost Stanback and they were looking to fortify the position while the league’s leading rusher from the previous season went through a long healing and rehab process.
Fletcher delivered the goods for Montreal, along with Canadian Jeshrun Antwi. The two of them provided Montreal with an excellent combination in the running attack, with Fletcher rushing 85 times over the regular season for 486 yards (a 5.7 yard average) and a touchdown. He also pulled in 29 catches (on 31 targets) for 353 more yards and another score. Among running backs, Fletcher ranked second in yards after catch with 338.
As he dutifully helped key a growing Montreal offence, Fletcher knew full well that the reason he’d ended up in Montreal in the first place was about to disappear as Stanback began practicing harder and harder, prepping for his late-season return.
“I looked at it as, that’s one of our guys, one of our key pieces to make us a championship team,” said Fletcher. “The biggest thing for me was trying to do my job a hundred per cent and help anyway that I could with the offence.”
“I didn’t look at it as a competition thing.”
Fletcher admitted, however, that he did feel some pangs of insecurity as Stanback’s return drew closer. Being well aware of the effect that the roster ratio can sometimes have on the fortunes of non-Canadian players, he wondered if the numbers would leave him relegated to the world of the non-actives. And Antwi, by the way, had been impressive throughout the season as well, totalling 600 yards on 106 carries and catching 30 passes for 200 more.
Antwi’s impressive season coupled with the return of the cornerstone veteran did have Fletcher wondering where he might fit in. But some encouraging words from Montreal’s running back coach and assistant coach Andre Bolduc helped ease the anxiety.
“Coach Andre came to me and he told me, ‘when Stanback does get back we’re gonna try our best to keep you on the roster.’ Once I heard that, it gave me some type of comfort in my position.”
Fletcher had been both a number one back and part of a tandem during his college days. At Edinboro University he was the stud, averaging 122 yards rushing per game over 32 games, scoring 41 touchdowns. He rushed for 3,913 yards in three seasons for the Fighting Scots.
But in his final season of college football Fletcher transferred to Ball State, where he shared duties with Caleb Huntley, now a second-year running back with the Atlanta Falcons. It was at Ball State where Fletcher learned he could co-exist with another rooster in the backfield henhouse.
“Making that transition there kind of prepared me for moments like this,” said Fletcher, who compared Stanback, in running style, with Huntley. “A very physical power back,” he said. And like his time with Huntley at Ball State, Fletcher can see that there is harmony in play with he and Stanback in the Als’ offence.
“I think we compliment each other well,” said Fletcher, sizing up the Montreal running game. “With him, you have to respect his game. You can’t just keep five guys in the box ‘cause he’s gonna do his thing there. And with me on the outside, I think my playmaking ability is tough to contain at times.”
“I think it’s a great tandem,” he said.
FLETCHER’S DEGREE USED FOR GOOD NOT FOR EVIL
I wondered if Walter Fletcher’s master’s degree in coaching could give him an edge on his opponents during a game. If a coach can build a player up, certainly a coach can break a player down too. And a guy armed with the knowledge on how to best go about that might be able to use that to advantage during a game. Has Fletcher tried it?
“I haven’t,” he said, intrigued, though, by the possibility. “But I know a lot of football is a mental game. A lot of the things you learn in the courses are a lot of mental things that a lot of players don’t really know about, that go into the game. Not just Xs and Os. But I haven’t used it yet.”
“I want to use that to really help kids,” he said. “Coaching is my long term goal.”
Fletcher self-coaches himself a bit, too. Not within the framework of the Alouettes workday, but rather when he has free time.
“I come home, what’s my plan? Watch film. Maybe that’s an hour when I first get home. And then maybe look over the plays for the week, look at my assignments. I’ll look at the formation personnel and kind of break it down that way. Planning is something I use off the field.”