From the Toronto Star:
His phone’s always close, can you see it? It’s by the elliptical in this condo gym, hardly the training place for a professional running back, but this is all Cory Boyd has.
Will it ring? Probably not today, but Boyd is in the gym anyway so he keeps it nearby. Preparation is the only thing that he knows. That and football, but the only way he’s getting back on the gridiron — his sanctuary — is when that phone rings. But nobody’s calling.
Boyd shouldn’t be here. Not here as in Toronto, a city that unceremoniously dumped the insular running back when he was leading the league in rushing in 2012, on pace for a 1,300-yard season. Not here as in the CFL, a league that churns out redemption stories but has no home for excessive, in-your-face faith — a trait that takes self-described “loners? like Boyd and calls them “locker-room problems.?
Does the phone even work? Maybe not. He’s called every team in the league looking for a shot in 2013 but hasn’t gotten a single call back. He even went to the Argos practice facility, looking for general manager Jim Barker only to be told he was on vacation, likely in the U.S.
Boyd shouldn’t be here because he shouldn’t be alive. His past of growing up in the 108 Projects in New Jersey seems to haunt him to this day. It’s a past he wears on his sleeve quite literally, in ink on his forearm. It’s a history that resurfaced when the Argos released him in favour of a lower-maintenance blocking back, Chad Kackert.
When Boyd was turfed, then-Argo offensive lineman Rob Murphy tweeted that he was a fraud. Boyd says it was Murphy’s explanation for when his past in the projects conflicted with his faith-filled present.
He speaks with conviction, but he’s unsure of who he is. Boyd says that he really didn’t speak much in the locker room and that there were no problems in Toronto. The numbers don’t lie, says Boyd, who had 447 yards on 82 carries at that point.
Ricky Ray, meanwhile, had been sacked 11 times and threw seven interceptions through six games. The Argos gave up 36 sacks that season, but Ray only threw four more interceptions. Boyd had a stint with Edmonton after that, but found himself the odd man out again. He hasn’t played football since.
Boyd is unwanted in an eight-team league. At 27, he’s getting too old to bounce around practice rosters and mini-camps in the States. He’ll turn 28 in August, in what could be his third full season sitting out of football.
The time before this, Boyd quit on the Denver Broncos before the 2009 season after Mike Shanahan was fired. The time before that was in 2005, when Steve Spurrier came in and cleaned up a mess at the University of South Carolina, including suspending their starting running back. In his comeback season, Boyd’s mother, fresh out of jail, died. It sent the fragile young man into frustration.
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“It was a year from hell, same as now,? Boyd said.
In both cases, Boyd said he had a sense of abandonment from his departed coaches. This time around, he calls it a “raw deal? that is “humbling.?
But why is he so often the odd man out? The Argos declined to comment on what happened less than a year ago. His former teammate at the University of South Carolina and the Argos, Brandon Isaac, said it has him “confused.?
“It continues to be things from his past that knock him down. I don’t think that’s fair, but who am I to say that it isn’t?? said Isaac, now a Hamilton Tiger Cat after being recently released from the Argos.
“Sometimes when you try to be this godly person outside of football and then when you playing football, you’re just this mean and aggressive running back . . . It kind of brings two different worlds,? Isaac said.
Boyd said people wanted to “find the flaws.?
“I was barely in the locker room to talk to people. I never wanted to get into that because I have a mission. And my mission wasn’t to go hang out with teammates, it wasn’t to go drink beer and do those things,? Boyd said. “I wanted to be a face of a franchise.?
But that face has a history far from the sterile condo he lives in now. It’s written on his skin, tattoos that cover his chest, back and arms.
The outline of his home state with the number “108? sits where a football would normally rest. The 108 Projects is where he grew up with his grandmother, after his mother went to jail for drug dealing when Boyd was 10.
On his right shoulder where the number “3? stands as a tribute to his cousin and only hero, Willie Graves, a Villanova-bound basketball player who died of a gunshot wound in his arms.
Football and basketball were his way out. He hustled both for cash through drug dealers that didn’t want the talent from the projects to sling anything but a basketball and football, Boyd says. They bet on 2 a.m. pickup games, and how many touchdowns he could get under the Friday night lights.
“That was my outlet to get all my anger out, to get all my frustration out. Everybody else in my family played basketball. I played basketball, too, but it just wasn’t as satisfying as running into somebody and letting them feel my pain, feel my power,? said Boyd.
Boyd talks about forgiveness and redemption now. The past is a series of “foolish mistakes.? The drive to punish defenders with his north-south running style is still there, but no teams are taking a chance. Until then, Boyd runs his own training and personal fitness company, one that he’s trying to distribute through his church, Light & Life Ministries. He stays prepared in a state of purgatory.
Boyd’s most recent tattoo is an open-winged dove across his chest, one he had inked before Ray arrived to Toronto, an arrival that brought a renewed pass-first mentality for the Argos.
“Before the demise of this past season, I felt I was finally free. Finally hit my stride, I was finally going to reach that level of success that I’d always wanted,? Boyd said.
“I got so much hope, man. Each day that goes by and I don’t receive a call, each game that goes by and I don’t receive a call — I mean it hurts . . . It’s painful to not do the thing that you love to do. Literally love and that completes you.
“I don’t have it right now, so who am I??