EDMONTON — Arkee Whitlock wears his philosophy on a tattoo, penned in florid script across his chest: By Any Means Necessary.
“I got this in my rookie year in the NFL,” the 25-year-old Edmonton Eskimos runningback said. “It was a big accomplishment for me. I took a long way to get there. This reminds me every day that I can do whatever I want to. No matter. No bars. No excuses. By any means necessary.”
On Sunday, Whitlock will be counted on when the Eskimos take on the Calgary Stampeders at McMahon Stadium in the CFL’s West Division semifinal (TSN, 2:30 p.m. ). The 9-9 Eskimos are riding a two-game win streak and finished third in the West by trouncing the B.C. Lions 45-13 in Vancouver last Friday.
Whitlock had career best 165 yards and two touchdowns against B.C. while keeping the defence honest and opening up the passing game for Ricky Ray.
“He’s dynamic as a runner,” said centre Aaron Fiacconi.
“He’s got great vision of the field, allows us to set our blocks up. When we get on our man, he’s great at making a cut, too, makes us look good.”
Whitlock finished third overall in CFL rushing, with 1,293 yards and 12 rushing TDs to go with a 6.1-yard rushing average.
Quarterback Ricky Ray said Whitlock’s elusiveness was the deciding factor in a 22-19 win over Toronto a month ago.
“We had a run play that he broke for a touchdown,” said Ray.
“We couldn’t block the back side end and it was 1-on-1 with (Whitlock) and he made the guy miss. He’s got that ability to turn losses into gains for us.”
The Green and Gold will have their hands full.
The Stampeders (9-7-1) lost first place in the West with a 30-14 loss Saturday to the Saskatchewan Roughriders. They’re 6-2-1 at McMahon this year and have beaten the Eskimos three games out of four in the regular season. In the two Calgary games, they outscored Edmonton a combined 62-15.
Eskimo head coach Richie Hall said line play will determine the line score.
“It’s important for both offensive lines to establish themselves,” he said.
“That’s what you want to do, set the tone, then make it a physical game, establish the run and open up the play-option passes and the little things it takes to win a football game at this time of year.”
It has been a winding road to the CFL for Whitlock, who grew up in Rock Hill, S.C. He was spotted by the Eskimos while still in college, tearing up the gridiron at Southern Illinois, setting school records for yardage and TDs.
He signed as a rookie free agent with the Minnesota Vikings in 2007 but didn’t stick. They cut him loose. He was picked up by the San Francisco 49ers, played in some pre-season games and was cut again.
He re-signed with the Vikings, worked on the practice squad until he was cut again in 2008, his career now caught in the all-too-familiar fringe player death spiral. The Eskimos, who had Whitlock’s CFL rights, knew it and we’re watching. They signed him as free agent in April. When starting tailback Jesse Lumsden went down with a season-ending shoulder injury in the first quarter of the first regular season game, Whitlock had his chance.
He debuted in a nightmarish 50-16 loss to Montreal in July, starring in sports highlight reels for all the wrong reasons. He dropped two TD passes, fumbled, and saw a pass bounce off his shoulder pads and taken for a 38-yard TD the other way.
Fiacconi said Whitlock never missed a beat and didn’t let the debacle do him in.
“The best thing I noticed was the way he rebounded from that. He made sure that never happened again.”