Cameron Judge never did mind signing one-year contracts over the first few years of his CFL career. But now? Now he’s happy that he’s bucked that personal trend with a fresh, two-year extension with the Calgary Stampeders.
“I was kind of hesitant to, you know, get locked down to one place,” said the 28-year-old linebacker, who’d previously signed single season contracts with both Toronto and then another one with the Stamps, previously.
“But after my year in Calgary, I felt like that was the place for me. So that worry kind of went out the window.”
What a year it was.
Judge, the native of Montreal who’d enjoyed three rising star seasons in Saskatchewan before spending really what was a lost year with the Argos, rebounded big time in 2022, after being traded by Toronto just prior to the opening of free agency season.
With 78 tackles, five sacks and two interceptions, Judge again enjoyed the heights he’d once scaled as a Rider. In a season where he earned a slot on the CFL All-Star team, he was also named the Stampeders’ Most Outstanding Canadian.
At home once again on the field, Judge saw no need to look beyond the yard where he dominated in 2022. He loves Calgary, both the team and the city. “It’s tough to beat, in my opinion,” he said of life near the foothills.
Judge was very tough to beat, too, last year. His tackle totals suggest that, as do his team-leading 97 total defensive plays, good for eighth overall in the CFL.
“I ‘spied’ a decent amount when we played running quarterbacks and that allowed me to kind of make plays where the ball was going,” said Judge when asked if there was anything in particular about the Calgary defensive set-up that helped him shine.
He was, as he says, ‘where the ball was going’ a lot. Judge led the CFL in ‘big’ defensive plays (plays that result in a turnover) with a total of 11. In addition to his two interceptions (one for a 71-yard touchdown), he stuffed two third-down gambles, forced two fumbles and recovered five.
Those five fumble recoveries led the league, by the way and one of them went for a 63-yard touchdown. Maybe that was just the ol’ running back in him coming to the surface. Judge had been a ball carrier until his sophomore year in high school before switching to linebacker. “Yeah, it’s nice when I get to carry it again,” he said, laughing.
In large part, Judge figures, his return to stardom was really a matter of getting on the field and playing, something he did not experience so much the previous year in Toronto. Injured early during his season with the Argos, Judge found it difficult to tap into the all-important playing rhythm that comes with action. In his absence, the Argonauts found a defensive set-up they were happy with. “So it was kind of hard for me to crack the rotation there for whatever reason,” he said. “Just wasn’t in the cards for me, I guess.”
In Calgary, though, Judge was a key part of defensive coordinator Brent Monson’s plans from the outset and he thrived with the increased workload as the team’s every down weak side linebacker. As well, Judge added, he found a great chemistry with Calgary coaches, saying Monson got the Calgary D “very well prepared, each and every week.”
In linebackers coach Bob Slowik, Judge has a linebacker whisperer who helps bring out the best in him.
“He’s a guy who demands my best each and every day,” said Judge. “When he sees anything he’s going to call me out on that. I really appreciate that in a coach. Not letting anyone get comfortable. And of course, all his knowledge. I’m learning something new each and every day in there with him.”
And there’ll be even more knowledge to soak up in 2023. While Juwan Simpson has been added to the Calgary coaching staff as a defensive line coach, you think one of the best linebackers in the team’s history won’t have sage advice to offer to the guys manning his old unit?
“That’s definitely something I’m excited about,” said Judge of getting to know Simpson. “To learn some things from him as well.”
Imagine that. There could be even more to Judge’s upside than what was on display during his big bounce-back season. The Stamps would be thrilled with that. And Judge is quite happy to stay put and show them how high he can soar, for at least two more years.
“It’s been a while of signing a one-year contracts,” he said. “So it feels nice to have a little bit of stability for the future.”
DON’T GO JAMEER, DON’T GO
A big reason that Judge so enjoyed playing with the Stampeders in 2022 was the presence of the guy lining up beside him, middle linebacker Jameer Thurman.
Thurman, the superb outside linebacker who switched smoothly to the middle last year, is scheduled to become a free agent on Feb. 14, if the Stampeders don’t re-sign him before the window opens.
“Yeah, that does worry me,” admitted Judge of the possibility Thurman might move on. “I have a lot of fun playing with Jameer. He’s a great player.
“I understand people have to do what’s best for them. But I’m definitely hoping that something’s done and we’re able to bring him back as well.”