Toronto Argonauts Return to IMG Academy After Securing CFL's Grey Cup Title
This year's Toronto Argonauts' mini camp marks the fourth consecutive preseason training held at IMG Academy, but this year's return holds more importance than ever before, as the team went on to secure the 105th Grey Cup in 2017 following their workout in Bradenton last April. Their title marked the 17th win for the program, with their last win coming in 2012. The Grey Cup remains the Canadian Football League (CFL)'s highest honor, as it's a contest between the winners of the East and West divisional playoffs of the CFL.
Now, training has come full circle, and the Argos were prepared to jumpstart the 2018 season on the same note. Among this year's returning players were Qudarius (Q) Ford (pictured middle above) and Cole Watson (pictured right above), both of whom aided the team in securing the championship last year. Ford participated in last year's open tryout, which precedes each year's training.
"I ended up doing well in the tryout, and they invited me onto the team," Ford said. "It was a long journey - a real long journey, just being able to be a part of the team and then ending up winning the Grey Cup; it was just an unbelievable experience. I didn't expect it to start off that way, but you never know how it's going to work out for you, so I tried to keep faith all the way through."
Watson's experience at mini camp offers him an opportunity to grow both as an individual player and with the team, and he has undergone a similar journey to Ford.
"I was here last year at IMG - great place, awesome facilities, plenty of places for us to get better and grow as a team," he said. "I'm really enjoying it and can see it coming together. The team hosts a tryout every year, so I did that last year, and they asked me to come to the mini camp. I stayed for the next three days and enjoyed it. It's a great coaching staff, great team, and it allows me to grow under them. I've done a good job, and the team's done a good job, too."
Head coach Marc Trestman understands the significance of this training period, and he acknowledges that the time spent in Florida needs to be flawless.
"IMG gives us a professional environment to work in and quality fields to work on because it's always a safety issue to run on fields that are unacceptable," he said. "We have that, we have great meeting areas, great housing, we're in close vicinity to the cafeteria - they treat us great here, they feed us great, and they just make it easy for us to do our job. We're here for 72 hours, so it's important that every minute is taken up without having issues that affect our ability to focus."
One recent addition to this year's roster is Xzavier Dickson (pictured left above), who was asked to continue his training after the open tryout this year. Dickson's first experience at IMG Academy wasn't this year, however, as he was a member of the 2015 Combine Training program in Bradenton. According to Dickson, campus has changed quite drastically.
"It's a different experience now than when I was here before," he said. "It was under construction and just being built on this side [of campus], and now it looks like a college - a mini college! It's nice here! It's a great experience and great people. I'm trying to work on my craft and individual skills and just get better and get to know the guys now."
A native Floridian, Ford has also enjoyed returning to the Sunshine State to train when he's given the opportunity.
"I really wanted to build off of what we did last year as a team, try to keep getting better each day, and be thankful for every opportunity to be out here and get better," he said. "It's still cold in Toronto, so any time I can be back home - and just the facilities here at IMG are unbelievable. It's like being at a college, but it's a high school. I'm just thankful to be here."
As the Argos completed their training in Bradenton, they'll enter the season with confidence that they were able to accomplish their goals ahead of the season. With the first game slated for June 1, 2018, the team recognizes that it's the hard work and effort they put in now that will truly pay off during the year.
"I'm just enjoying the ride and all of the training," Watson said. "You just hope to get better every day, individually and as a team and take advantage of the opportunities. There's a ton of guys out here you can learn from and get information from and grow together, so that's really what I'm trying to do is just get better. IMG has facilities like I've never seen anywhere else - certainly nicer than some colleges, and it's a great place and allows plenty of opportunities to get better, so I'm enjoying it."
This year's camp offered the opportunity to focus on the technical side of the game, as opposed to just game and situational play.
"At camp, we introduce our systems of football - offense, defense, special teams," Trestman said. "It's an opportunity for us to get to know each other and get out on the field and really just take our meetings to the practice field because we're not doing scrimmaging or a lot of competition. It's mostly just learning in the classroom and taking it to the field."
When asked about the team's goals for 2018, Trestman acknowledged that, just like every team in the league, they hope to win the Grey Cup. But, he also had a slightly different answer to this question as well.
"We don't have any goals," he said. "We're just try to be the best we can be. We're just trying to get better."