B.C. Lions’ RB William Stanback felt no ‘respect’ from Alouettes, believes he was ‘held back’ in Montreal

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Just like Aretha Franklin, all William Stanback wanted was a little r-e-s-p-e-c-t. He simply wasn’t getting it with the Montreal Alouettes.

The newly-signed B.C. Lions’ running back was frank when addressing the media about his former CFL club this week, revealing that his departure from La Belle Province did not come as a surprise.

“It really wasn’t a shock for me, to be honest. I obviously had a feeling throughout the season that things were gonna probably end up going this route,” Stanback told reporters in Vancouver.

“I just had a feeling that this might be my time to go. I’m just seeing how the team was starting to shape up, where a lot of the focus was towards the defence. I just felt like, ‘This is it.'”

The 29-year-old was the CFL’s highest-paid running back last season, earning $160,000 in hard money. Despite helping the Alouettes to a Grey Cup championship in 2023, including scoring a pivotal touchdown in that game, there was rampant speculation that the team would not be able to afford to bring him back for another season.

That proved to be prophetic, as Montreal appears to have backed Walter Fletcher for their starting job and elected to release Stanback ahead of free agency, allowing him to sign early in B.C. While a financial decision might be the company line, the aggrieved ball-carrier suggests that couldn’t possibly be true.

“Truthfully speaking, I didn’t even ask for anything yet. I never approached any number or anything, I just wanted to see how things were going to be,” he insisted. “There was never anything proposed to me. Fitting into the cap, we don’t know if I was able to fit in there because there was no numbers spoken about. We didn’t speak about anything.”

Money may make the world go round but it wasn’t the crux of the issue between Stanback and his employer. The five-year CFL veteran would have been content to stay in Montreal at a significantly lower dollar figure but was never asked to, indicating a much deeper split between the two sides.

“I already knew that I had to take a pay cut, that was evident. I had no problem with that whatsoever. It’s obviously a pay cut to come to B.C. but that never was something that was more important to me,” Stanback explained.

“I wanted to be treated right, I wanted to be respected and I didn’t want to be looked at as I’m just being tolerated. That was the feeling I was having. I just wanted to make sure wherever I go that I’m treated with respect like the vet I am and I didn’t feel that in that building.”

Stanback ran the ball 147 times for 800 yards and two touchdowns in Montreal last season, chipping in with another 241 yards and a major on 27 catches. However, he missed four games with various minor injuries, giving way to the younger Fletcher whom the Alouettes were eager to get on the roster.

While the Alouettes’ offence clearly looked better when he was firing on all cylinders, the Virginia Union product indicated that he wasn’t allowed to be the best version of himself last year.

“I was honestly held back last year,” Stanback claimed. “I felt like I could have done a lot more but due to what was being played out and what was wanted up top, I had no control over that. I just had to continue to follow the rules and do what I had to do so I didn’t put myself in a bad situation.”

After breaking into the CFL with Montreal in 2018, Stanback rose to prominence with back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons in 2019 and 2021, interrupted only by a training camp stint with the Las Vegas Raiders. He earned CFL all-star honours in both seasons and was named the East Division nominee for Most Oustanding Player in 2021.

The six-foot, 233-pound back has carried 625 times in his career for 3,716 yards and 11 touchdowns, adding 107 receptions for 1,058 yards and four more scores in 62 games. However, his production has decreased since the 2022 season opener, where he suffered a broken ankle that caused him to miss the next 13 contests.

While his yards per carry have yet to return to their pre-injury levels, Stanback bristles at the suggestion that he’s slowed down since the break and believes some of the Alouettes’ roster decisions helped fuel that narrative.

“I just felt like I wasn’t looked at as the Stanback that everyone knows who I am ever since the injury that I had in ’22. I just want everyone to understand that that injury is in the past, I have recovered from it 100 percent,” he insisted.

“The stigma, the speculation and everything around my name saying that I lost a step or I fell off or anything, it’s not true. And me missing games last year kinda was proving people right when that wasn’t the case at all. I was honestly healthy scratches and a lot of people didn’t know that.”

The native of Hempstead, N.Y. still feels his departure from Montreal was “bittersweet” but knows he has the chance to prove his critics wrong in B.C. The league’s worst rushing team from a year ago has assured him that pounding the rock will be a priority with him in the fold and the veteran is plenty motivated to show out in his new uniform.

“I look at it as a year of me making it a redemption year. I want to do everything I have to do to be the best that I can be for myself, for the team, for my family, for the people that are in my corner,” Stanback said.

“I just want to come out there with almost like a vengeance and just kick everyone’s butt. I want to be that dude again, and I know I have the power. I have the ability.”

The Lions will open their 2024 regular season on Sunday, June 9 when they visit the Toronto Argonauts at BMO Field.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.