At age 37, Ray still has desire to play

TORONTO — He sports a large brace on his left knee and is five months shy of his 38th birthday. But the idea of eluding large men intent on causing him bodily harm still appeals to Ricky Ray.

Ray was one of six quarterbacks on the opening day of the Toronto Argonauts rookie camp Wednesday at York University. The 14-year CFL veteran was mostly a spectator as late-season starter Drew Willy, sophomore Cody Fajardo and newcomer Jeff Mathews drew the bulk of snaps ahead of rookies Dakota Prukop and McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

But Ray will lead Toronto’s starting offence when training camp opens Sunday.

“I still love the game, I still feel like I can come out and compete and do it,” Ray said. ”It’s such a great feeling to be on a team that’s really competitive and gets on one of those runs and plays really well.

“I want to be out here playing football. I know my time is coming to an end so I’ll try to take advantage of it while I can.”

Ray’s future in Toronto was uncertain after he lost the starter’s job to newcomer Willy at last season’s end. But moments after being introduced as the Argos head coach in March, Trestman named Ray as his No. 1 quarterback, a bold declaration given Ray had just 11 starts the last two seasons due to an assortment of injuries.

“I know where he’s been and I know what he’s done,” Trestman said. ”There’s a lot of players who play the game at a high level at 37 years old and I think old is relative.

“I don’t think he plays that way, I don’t think he works that way, I don’t think he meets that way and I don’t think he walks through that way. I don’t know anybody here who’s more excited to be here and more enthusiastic about what’s happening right now and this opportunity than he is and that’s a pretty good sign.”

When Ray left Toronto after last season, he was uncertain where — or if — he fit into the Argos’ plans. But what Ray knew for sure was he wanted to continue playing, a sentiment that was further reaffirmed after speaking with both Trestman and offensive co-ordinator Marcus Brady.

“It was a little bit different off-season this year, there was a lot of decisions that had to be made for myself and the team,” Ray said. “But I knew I wanted to come back pretty early on so it was just kind of waiting to see what this team was going to do, what direction they were going to go and if I fit into those plans.”

When healthy, Ray has excelled with the Argos. He has completed over 71 per cent of his passes with Toronto and helped the franchise win the 100th Grey Cup game in 2012 at Rogers Centre.

The good news for Ray, the most accurate passer in CFL history, is he sees definite similarities between Trestman’s offence and the one Scott Milanovich ran during his five seasons as Toronto’s head coach. That’s not a surprise as Milanovich, a former quarterback, served as Trestman’s offensive co-ordinator in Montreal before joining the Argos in 2012.

Trestman has a well-earned reputation as a quarterback guru. In 2002 as the Oakland Raiders offensive co-ordinator, he helped a 37-year-old Rich Gannon become the NFL’s most valuable player after Gannon completed 67.6 per cent of his passes for 4,689 yards with 26 TDs and 10 interceptions.

Over 17 seasons as an NFL offensive co-ordinator and position coach, Trestman also helped San Francisco’s Steve Young, Arizona’s Jake Plummer and Detroit’s Scott Mitchell succeed. As well, he led Montreal, with veteran quarterback Anthony Calvillo in tow, to three Grey Cup appearances (two wins) from 2008 to 2012.

“With Milanovich, this was basically the stuff they worked on together in Montreal,” Ray said. “I’m definitely excited to play for Marc and kind of see his take on the offence and how he’s going to coach it different.

“It’s been kind of fun to learn some new things.”

When Trestman decided upon his starter, he also reached out to Willy, a gesture the former Buffalo star appreciated immensely. Willy said he’s comfortable with his new role in Toronto.

“He (Trestman) didn’t have to do that and it just shows he’s a stand-up guy, same with Mr. Popp (new GM Jim Popp),” Willy said. “I have the utmost respect for Ricky Ray and I’ll do everything I can to help him and make sure I’m ready to go just in case anything happens.”

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