Former Toronto Argonauts’ running back Chad Kackert remembers exactly where he was when he learned that his team had released star ball-carrier Cory Boyd back in 2012.
It was the second week of August and Kackert had traveled two hours northwest of Toronto with a group of friends to Wakestock — a wakeboarding competition and music festival in Collingwood, Ont. — during his team’s bye week. It was 10:30 a.m. and Kackert had already taken three shots when he got an unexpected call from head coach Scott Milanovich.
“He goes, ‘Hey Chad, I’m sure you’ve heard the news that we let go of Cory.’ I remember thinking, ‘He’s not talking about Cory Boyd, I need to ask which Cory he’s talking about and why he’s calling me,’ but why else would he be calling me (unless he was referring to Boyd)?” said Kackert in a recent interview with 3DownNation.
“I just agreed. I said, ‘OK.’ He goes, ‘Alright, so this week we’ve got Calgary, it’s a huge game and this is your shot.’ I was like, ‘Yes, sir’ and I was sober like that. I didn’t drink at all the rest of the weekend and I looked over at my girlfriend and was like, ‘I’m going to be starting for the Argos!'”
Kackert played well against Calgary the following week, recording 135 yards from scrimmage on 19 touches in a 22-14 victory at McMahon Stadium. He rushed 100 times for 638 yards and five touchdowns and caught 23 passes for 212 yards over nine games that season, helping the Argos finish second in the East Division at 9-9.
His numbers were impressive but the man he replaced was equally capable of making plays with the ball in his hands. Boyd wasn’t released due a lack of production — he rushed for 447 yards and two touchdowns over six games to start the season — but an inability to protect star quarterback Ricky Ray.
“Cory Boyd was a really nice guy. I still think he had something going on that he wasn’t telling us about because he was favouring his neck a little bit. The issue was he wasn’t protecting Ricky as well as they’d hoped, so despite what he did with the ball in his hands, they wanted Ricky to feel safe and be protected,” said Kackert.
Replacing a running back who struggled with pass protection felt strange to Kackert as he considered it the biggest weakness in his game. He’s still not sure how he was able to improve as a blocker, though it’s clear the coaching staff trusted him to do the job.
“It still boggles my mind. In college it was always, ‘Hey, if you want to play at the next level, you’ve gotta protect the quarterback better.’ I’m not sure what it was that made the difference — maybe just motivating or some coaching — but I think Ricky still likes me, so I must have done my job,” said Kackert.
The five-foot-eight, 206-pounder’s finest performance came in the 2012 Grey Cup when he recorded 195 yards from scrimmage on 28 touches and was named Most Valuable Player. Toronto defeated Calgary by a score of 35-22 in front of 53,208 fans at the Rogers Centre, ushering in a new era of optimism in The Six.
The Argos offered Kackert a sizeable contract extension during the off-season and he chose to sign it instead of pursuing a contract offer from the New York Jets. He rushed for 480 yards and three touchdowns in eight games but was unable to participate in the postseason after sustaining a freak injury before the East Final.
Kackert was running a routine checkdown in practice and accidentally collided with a defensive lineman coming off the edge on a stunt. His left foot was stuck in the turf while his body twisted on contact, resulting in a shattered fibula and a dislocated ankle. The freak accident kept him off the field until 2015 when he dressed for the final seven games of his career.
Toronto wanted to keep Kackert around in 2014 even if the chances of him seeing the field were low. When he revealed that he was interested in becoming a strength and conditioning coach after his playing career was over, the Argos offered to pay for Kackert’s training and certification if he agreed to coach the team for the year.
“For a staff to do that for a player was pretty incredible. It was certainly more than I could have asked for,” said Kackert. “It was really nice of them and I’m grateful that they did it and I was able to stay there.”
Kackert finished his six-year career with 267 carries for 1,702 yards and 13 touchdowns, an average of 6.37 yards per attempt. Only four players in league history finished their careers with better yard-per-carry averages (min. 250 attempts), three of whom are in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame: Willie Fleming (7.06), Jon Cornish (6.67), Leo Lewis (6.56), and Reggie Taylor (6.38).
The 35-year-old has spent the past four years working as a CrossFit trainer at CrossFit Dallas Central in Texas where he received his level two certification. His mother, sister, brother-in-law, and nephew moved to the city during the past year, providing him with some nearby family.
Kackert keeps in touch with a number of former teammates in a group chat, including offensive lineman Jeff Keeping, Jason Pottinger, Zander Robinson, Joe Eppele, and Mike Bradwell. The ten-year anniversary of Toronto’s 2012 Grey Cup victory is taking place in November, so Kackert is hoping for an opportunity to return north and celebrate.