‘I’m young again’: Elks’ DB Aaron Grymes ‘ahead of schedule’ after missing 2022 with torn ACL

Photo courtesy: Edmonton Elks

The Edmonton Elks have been parting ways with several aging veterans to start the offseason, but 31-year-old defensive back Aaron Grymes expects to be back at more than full strength despite missing the entire 2022 season with a torn ACL.

“That’s what I’ve been telling my wife, all I really did is extend my career,” Grymes joked during an appearance on 630 CHED’s The Elks this Week.

“I took a year off and my shoulders feel good again, my neck feels alright, and I got two brand-new knees. I’m young again. I’m one of the young guys in the locker room.”

Grymes battled back from a similar injury to the opposite knee that was suffered near the end of the 2019 season but was only forced to miss two games due to the cancelled 2020 season. This experience was dramatically different, both due to the timing of the injury and the excitement he had for the team entering the season.

“New coaching staff, new excitement around the building. (Head coach and general manager Chris) Jones is back in town, (president) Victor (Cui), there’s all this buzz. I’m having a great camp and about three minutes before the starters get taken out of the preseason game, I hurt my knee,” Grymes recalled.

“I cried, I’m not gonna lie. I shed tears when the MRI came back and it showed that I had a torn ACL.”

Having first arrived in Edmonton in 2013, Grymes is the organization’s longest-serving player — though his seven seasons in green and gold have been non-continuous. He was a key piece of the franchise’s last Grey Cup championship in 2015, before spending a year with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles. The all-star halfback returned to the fold for two seasons beginning in 2017, had a brief dalliance with the B.C. Lions in 2019, but came home for good after the pandemic.

Before this season, the Seattle, Washington native moved his family to Edmonton full-time in order to be more invested in the community year-round. That decision would prove to be especially impactful after Grymes went down.

“Honestly, I can’t really put it into words just how difficult it is. We sacrifice so much for this sport and I move my family up here, this is where I want to be and this is what I want to do, and then I get news that I won’t be playing all year,” he explained.

“It was difficult but as athletes, physically, I think we can overcome a lot. Injuries aren’t that bad physically, it’s the mental aspect of it and I have a lot of great people in my corner. My family, my wife and kids are always there to support me, making sure that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing and keep me locked in mentally. That’s why I am where I am right now and why I’m so far along in the process already.”

Coming off his first knee injury, Grymes registered 51 defensive tackles and one interception in 13 starts at field-side halfback in 2021, proving he could still be an elite CFL defender. The Elks badly missed his presence in the secondary last season, finishing 4-14 and without a victory at home.

The veteran remained actively involved with the team however and even earned himself a role in the spotter’s booth, ensuring that coaches got the replays they needed to decide whether or not to challenge critical plays.

“When I get done playing, I want to coach. I want to be around the sport. I want to scout, coach, train, whatever the case may be and in a perfect world it would be right here in this organization and Coach Jones knows that,” Grymes explained. “So when I got hurt, I went to him and I said to him and Geroy, give me everything you can to help me still feel involved.”

He will need no such added duties next season, as Grymes says he is currently “ahead of schedule” for his recovery and will get a full offseason of training in. What remains to be seen is whether the Elks’ secondary will be recovered from their own traumatic season.

The organization has already cut ties with veterans Duron Carter, Treston Decoud and Jeff Richards, while Scott Hutter and Donovan Olumba are the only starting members of the secondary who remain under contract for next year. Signed through 2023, Grymes will join them on the field but Chris Jones will again rely on fresh-faced free agents to build the defence he wants.

With 286 defensive tackles, 19 special teams tackles, 13 interceptions, two forced fumbles, and one sack already under his belt in 95 career regular-season games, the long-haired cover man is not the least bit concerned about the inexperience that will surround him.

“Back in 2013, who would have known I’d be here 10 years later as a face and a name of the franchise? Some of these guys, they could be that next person and honestly, I’m excited about that because I can help show them the way,” he said.

“Because I can’t play forever even with these brand-new knees. I don’t think I’ve got 10 more in me, maybe five.”