TORONTO—Argonauts' running back Chad Kackert hasn't received a huge amount of attention in the lead-up to the Grey Cup, and there are a few reasons behind that. For one thing, it's easy not to notice a 5'9'', 198-pound running back; Kackert certainly doesn't look like your stereotypical bruiser. Beyond that, though, Toronto often focuses on taking to the air, putting the spotlight on players like Ricky Ray and Chad Owens, and there's also a superstar running back on the other sideline in Stampeders' star (and 2012 CFL rushing leader) Jon Cornish. Kackert may still prove a crucial piece of the puzzle Sunday, however; he's been extremely effective when called upon this year, rushing 100 times for 638 yards, an average of 6.4 yards per carry. He said being overlooked is nothing new for him, and it's something that's inspired him to success in the past.
"I feel like that's happened my whole life," Kackert said. "I'm a smaller guy. I would say that was a lot of my initial motivation as a young kid. I actually had a coach tell me when I was 13 years old that it's good to be little and fast but it's better to be big. That felt like a shot to the heart because they wouldn't play me on that team, I wasn't getting any reps although I was one of the fastest guys on the team. Ever since then, I've been motivated to prove people wrong."
Kackert said he's not as focused on silencing the critics these days, though.
"It's not about that any more," he said. "It's about going and winning the game."
The CFL's been friendly to smaller running backs in the past, and Kackert thinks that tread's starting to spread beyond its borders.
"I think there's a place for small fast guys in any league," he said. "You're starting to see it. In the NFL, there's Danny Woodhead, he's doing a good job with the Pats."
A lot of the hype this week has been about Cornish, who was named the league's outstanding Canadian Thursday and was the runner-up for the most outstanding player award. When asked what he knows about Cornish, Kackert didn't have much to say.
"I know he played at Kansas and I know he's a Canadian," Kackert said with a laugh. "He's got a goatee, doesn't he, or is he doing the mustache this week?"
Kackert said he occasionally watches film of other running backs, but focuses on their blitz pickups, not their running ability.
"I don't watch a lot of football, to be honest with you, but when we're watching film, you get to see all the guys in this league," he said. "I like to watch the blitz protection, how they pick up the blitzers. As far as the talent goes when they get past the initial read and into the secondary, everyone's got their own style."
Kackert was elevated into the spotlight following the Argonauts' unexpected release of Cory Boyd this year, and he said there was a lot of pressure on him. He said it's gotten easier and easier over the season, though.
"It was a challenge," Kackert said. "It's the experience that will build the confidence, as long as you're doing the right things . That's what we've been doing ever since week seven when I got my first chance there."
Speaking of confidence-building experience, the Argonauts have plenty heading into this thanks to their two regular-season wins over the Stampeders. Kackert said those wins are excellent experience for them, but they'll have to produce a consistent effort again to win the Grey Cup Sunday.
"We've got to believe we can do it again," he said. "You've got to fight for every yard you can get. It's about the offensive line, and our focus, and just executing what we've been practicing all year."
He said Calgary's defensive talent will make it difficult, though.
"They have guys who can chase the ball," Kackert said. "They have speed. They have guys who can hit and everyone's good at what they're good at."
With all the hubbub around the Grey Cup, it can be difficult for some players to focus when game time rolls around. Some players have extensive pre-game rituals to avoid that, but Kackert doesn't.
"I just like to walk around the locker room with a smile on my face," he said. "I'm extremely grateful to be where I am."
Despite the offseason hype about their acquisition of Ricky Ray, the Argonauts aren't a team many expected to be in this Grey Cup following their 9-9 regular season. Kackert said the team's learned from their low points this year, though.
"I think everyone's been growing this year," he said. "We were a nine-and-nine team in the regular season which means we had a lot of steps forward and a lot of steps backwards. If you look back at last year, we've made a lot of progress but there were also a lot of games where we felt like we moved backwards. There were some times in the season where we were a little down on ourselves. When we realized we were kind of clinging onto our lives, we had to go out and get Saskatchewan [in Week 18], and ever since then we've been progressing to where we needed to be."
Kackert said he's thrilled to have the chance to play for the Grey Cup.
"I'm grateful for any opportunity I have," he said. "This has been an unbelievable journey, and I'm just hoping we can do what we need to do to get the win here."