- Fan Zone
It didn’t matter that Derel Walker is from Texas and the Eskimos last two games were played in a bitter cold on snowy, slippery fields.
He had a smile on his face as he talked with the media following a chilly practice at The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium last week.
“Glad that I came back,” said Walker, who hurried back to Edmonton after being released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the end of the NFL team’s training camp. “Glad that everything has turned out the way it is. I’m just looking forward to what’s next.”
What’s next is the West Division final at 2:30 p.m. Sunday against the Calgary Stampeders, the CFL’s top team with a 13-4-1 record this season that hasn’t played since Nov. 3 and has lost its last three games – two of them at home. The Stampeders’ last win was on Oct. 13 and their last victory at home was on Sept. 29.
While Walker talked about having to find a “mental strength” when playing football in the wintry conditions of the past two weeks – “It’s pretty cold, your footing won’t be right, there’s a lot of things that you have to adjust,” he said at that time – that shouldn’t be an issue this weekend at Calgary, where the forecast is for sunny conditions and a high of 7 C.
“At the end of the day, you’re out there to play football and you have to do your job to the best of your ability,” Walker said.
As a team, the Eskimos have been doing their jobs at a really high level on offence, defence and special teams for several weeks now. They’ve won each of their last six games – including Sunday’s West Division semifinal over the Blue Bombers in Winnipeg – over six different teams, averaging 33.8 points per game and building at least a 10-point lead in each contest.
“It’s been a great year for this organization,” Walker said. “I’m just looking forward to hoisting the Cup again.”
The 26-year-old wide receiver kept his options open to take another shot at the NFL if an opportunity presents itself again by re-signing only until the end of the season, but he has only one thing on his mind right now – winning another Grey Cup.
If the Eskimos knock off the Stamps and play in the Grey Cup for a second time in three years, Walker said he might do things a little differently this time.
“I wouldn’t say I took it for granted, but there’s some things that you look back on like, ‘Aw, man, I might never get that again,’ so I should have really done one or two more things, go party a little bit more or something like that,” he said with a smile.
He also wants to get to celebrate with the Grey Cup for a week.
“I didn’t have the privilege last time, but this time it’s going to happen,” Walker said. “I’m playing for it. I didn’t get my chance to spend my time with the trophy.”
Walker caught 48 passes for 634 yards and two touchdowns in eight games this season and added six catches for 51 yards in the semifinal.
He isn’t the only Eskimos player who started the summer in an NFL training camp. Defensive back Aaron Grymes has helped stabilize the secondary after it was ravaged by injuries during the fall, rejoining the team in late September to help it snap out of a six-game losing slump.
Grymes, 26, who also signed a contract until the end of the season in case another NFL opportunity arises during the off-season, missed 1-1/2 seasons while trying to crack the Philadelphia Eagles’ roster.
Like Walker, he’s also completely on the Eskimos bandwagon.
“We’ve got a great team,” he said after the final game of the regular season in Regina. “I continue to preach this: We believe in ourselves right now and we’re playing with energy. When we play like that, we’re going to be a tough team to beat.
“We’re clicking right now,” he added. “I think we’re putting it all together at the right time. The scary thing is we could take it another step further, too.”
Grymes is playing defensive half on the short side of the field this year after playing on the wide side during his previous stint with the Eskimos. He’s also displayed a more aggressive, physical style of play since he returned from the NFL.
“I felt that was my role when I came back,” he said. “A lot of guys had played in 12 games already and I had to come and bring that fresh energy. I had that fly-around-mentality to put your butt on the line.
“I’m willing to do whatever it takes to win another Grey Cup for this team,” he continued. “They put in a lot of work before I got here. I’m just trying to put a couple of finishing touches on it wherever I can.
“This defence has been huge in welcoming me into their scheme. The guys have been big on letting me get their playbook down. And I’ve got to repay them by giving everything I’ve got every single time I’m on the field. If that’s making eight tackles a game, so be it. If it’s making two tackles, but a lot of plays on the deep balls, then that’s what I got to do. But my mentality is to give everything I’ve got to this team because I’m definitely trying to win another Grey Cup.”
Grymes had 30 defensive tackles and a forced fumble in six regular-season games. His career high is 40 tackles in 16 games in 2015.
He also had four defensive tackles and a special teams tackle against Winnipeg in the semifinal.