Rookie receiver Jimmy Ralph boarded an elevator with Ricky Ray during Argos training camp and reminded the veteran quarterback about their first meeting.
Ray didn’t remember it, but he signed an autograph for Ralph in 2003 when Ray was a CFL sophomore and Ralph was a fourth-grader. The pair shared a laugh over the elevator confession, their shared connection highlighting Ray’s longevity and the Ralph family’s football legacy.
Big brother Brock was Ray’s teammate on that Eskimos squad, while another brother, Brett, spent five seasons as a CFL receiver. And heading into this weekend’s visit to Edmonton, youngest brother Jimmy has won a spot in the Argos’ receiving rotation.
A return to his home province means a long list of relatives hoping to connect, but Ralph says his folks are veterans at balancing football and family.
“My family’s been through it, and they know this is a business trip,” said Ralph, who has 19 receptions for 175 yards this season. “When I give them the OK they’ll come pick me up, but other than that it’s a focussed week for me.”
It’s all business for Argos head coach Marc Trestman.
Last Saturday’s 27-24 loss to the Saskatchewan didn’t cost the team first place in the CFL’s East Division but, in dropping a home game, the Argos, now 7-8, squandered a chance to get over the .500 mark and impress local fans with a big win.
Trestman says he’s eager to see how quickly the club can rebound from a disappointing loss.
“One thing about the guys is they’ve handled a loss just like they’ve handled a win,” Trestman said. “They’ve gone to work, tried to get better . . . They understand the importance of each and every game.”
The Argos hosted Edmonton three weeks ago and won 34-26.
Ralph caught two passes for 20 yards that day, then two weeks later recorded career highs in catches (six) and yards (62) against Hamilton.
The numbers reflect Ralph’s growing role in the Argos’ offence, and further remind him he made the right decision in following his older brothers into the family business.
He played the middle infield in baseball well enough to make Canada’s national junior team, and competed at the 2010 world junior championship in Thunder Bay. That squad included future Blue Jay Dalton Pompey, and they competed against current Jays prospect Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
But no matter how well he performed on the diamond, Ralph always believed he belonged on the gridiron.
“My brothers always joked about it and said baseball might be the better decision,” he said. “But football was always where my heart was.”
Older brother Brock was twice drafted by the Baltimore Orioles, but he stuck with football and racked up 238 receptions for 3,045 yards and 12 touchdowns in nine CFL seasons.
Middle brother Brett also had 12 receiving touchdowns in his five-year career with Calgary.
But Ray says even though the Ralph brothers share a name and a position, each has a unique on-field identity. Where Brock was a six-foot-three downfield threat, the shorter, shiftier Jimmy lines up in the slot and finds soft spots in opposing defences.
Ray says Ralph benefits from the football wisdom his big brothers gathered over their 14 combined CFL seasons.
“Definitely having those guys, to draw from their experiences, has helped him out,” Ray said.
After starting his college career at Weber State, Ralph transferred to the University of Alberta, where he caught 84 passes for 1,454 yards over his final two seasons.
Ralph didn’t play the 2016 season but entered this spring’s CFL draft anyway, reasoning a team would pick him based on his two standout seasons at U of A. But the draft’s seven rounds passed and no team selected Ralph. Minutes after the final selection, the Argos called to offer a spot at training camp and a chance to compete for a job.
“Once you get into camp you’re out there trying to make the team, no matter where you got drafted,” Ralph said. “I used it as motivation.”