Bye comes at good time for Jerome Messam

TORONTO — He’s leading the CFL in rushing and helped the Calgary Stampeders get on a nice roll but the bye week comes at a great time for Jerome Messam.

The burly six-foot-three, 255-pound running back admits he’s a little banged up after seven regular-season games and can use the time off. After rushing for 76 yards and a TD on Thursday in Calgary’s 41-24 road win over the Toronto Argonauts on Thursday night, Messam won’t return to action until Aug. 19 when the Stampeders visit the B.C. Lions.

And that will kick off an important stretch for Calgary as four of its first five games back will be against West Division opponents.

“We’ll be ready, we’ve been waiting for it,” Messam said. “But it’s a great time to be on the bye.

“I’ve been fighting through some injuries the past couple of weeks.”

Calgary (5-1-1) has won three straight games and scored a stunning 101 points in its last two contests. Before arriving in Toronto, the Stampeders demolished the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 60-1 at McMahon Stadium on Saturday night.

Messam is also enjoying a solid campaign. Despite a slow start, the 32-year-old Toronto native has run for a league-high 490 yards and is averaging over five yards per carry. He’s also scored a CFL-best six touchdowns, a career-high three coming in the win over Hamilton.

If there’s been a turning point this season for Messam, it was Calgary’s 30-23 road loss in Montreal on July 14. He was ejected from that game — and later fined $750 by the CFL — after becoming involved in an incident with Alouettes’ linebacker Chip Cox following a fumble.

Since then, Messam has rushed for 302 yards on 49 carries (6.2-yard average) and scored five TDs in three games. But Messam credits Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson for his turnaround.

“It’s just coach (Dickenson) getting back to the run,” Messam said. “When we do well we’re a balanced team.

“When we stay balanced, we’re unbeatable.”

Calgary has been unbeatable in Ontario since Messam’s arrival late in the 2015 season. The Stampeders are 3-0-1 on the road in Ottawa, Toronto and Hamilton over that span, with Messam having rushed for 300 yards on 44 carries (6.8-yard average) and three TDs in those games.

“It’s an awesome feeling,” Messam said. “I never played for any teams in Ontario so every time I get the chance to come home I just want to put on a show for my friends and family.”

Messam has been especially productive in Toronto, having run for 209 yards on 27 carries (7.7-yard average) and two TDs in two games. The only blemishes on Thursday’s performance were two fumbles.

“I thought he was solid. I thought he ran downhill,” Dickenson said. “I am concerned when you put it on the carpet twice, though, I do think that’s a problem.

“But I know he’s good in protection, he’s a smart player. I think he has to get more credit … he’s a big part of our success and we need to have him at his best.”

Calgary acquired Messam from Saskatchewan in October 2015. He paid immediate dividends, rushing for 121 yards on 15 carries in a 42-19 win over the Riders in his Stampeders’ debut.

Last season, Messam led the CFL in rushing with a career-high 1,198 yards (5.8-yard average) and was named the league’s top Canadian for the second time. He helped Calgary post a 15-2-1 record but the dream season ended bitterly with a 39-33 overtime Grey Cup loss to the Ottawa Redblacks at BMO Field.

“It was a tough off-season to say the least,” Messam said. “But that’s put to bed now, we’re deep into the season and off and running.”

Messam’s in the final year of his CFL contract so a second straight rushing title certainly wouldn’t hurt his bargaining position. But the nine-year veteran said individual accomplishments don’t define him.

“Honestly, I’m just grinding,” he said. “When my number is called I’m trying to get positive yards and not go backwards.

“It (rushing title) means something to me, I’m not going to say it doesn’t. But wins and losses are the only things that really matter.”

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