B.C. back looks to start over

November 25, 1994|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,Sun Staff Writer

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Depending on whom you ask, B.C. Lions tailback Cory Philpot sat out two games this year either because his body needed a rest or his mind did.

Whatever the reason, one of the Canadian Football League's most productive runners was grounded, and at a time when B.C. should have been building momentum for the playoffs.

Odd timing. Odd explanations.

Philpot, 24, led the CFL in rushing for much of the season, but didn't play against Edmonton on Sept. 30, and didn't even make the trip to Baltimore three weeks later.

With Philpot out, Baltimore CFLs running back Mike Pringle not only won the rushing title, he set league records with 1,972 yards on the ground and 2,414 yards from scrimmage.

The year wasn't a total bust for Philpot. He established a B.C. record with 1,513 yards rushing (placing him second in the league), scored 13 touchdowns and reached Sunday's Grey Cup against Baltimore. But it could have been so much better.

Pringle was the Eastern Division's Most Outstanding Player. Philpot was the Western Division's forgotten man.

What happened?

"Our coaches made some changes, wanting to go with some different things, some different schemes, and I just ended up not playing," he said yesterday.

Philpot rushed for 159 yards and two touchdowns in his first game, a 57-18 trouncing of Ottawa on July 15. He gained 115 yards the next week, and later churned out 154, 178, 172 and 173 during a four-game stretch when the Lions went 3-0-1.

Then came a peculiar slump, and a controversy.

The former Mississippi standout carried the ball seven times for 6 yards against Edmonton on Sept. 17, and nine times for 21 yards against Winnipeg on Sept. 23. B.C. lost both games, and Philpot lost his starting job the next week at Edmonton.

"The coach [Dave Ritchie] thought maybe I wasn't focused on the game," said Philpot, a second-year pro. "I had a lot of press and a lot of people coming at me, talking about the NFL and different things, and I think he felt that was distracting me from playing football. In my mind, it was never a distraction."

Philpot started the next two games against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, combining for 70 yards and two touchdowns. When the Lions flew to Baltimore, Philpot stayed behind, but questions about his whereabouts -- and the strange turn his season had taken -- hounded the team.

Back then, Ritchie said his running back needed time to heal an assortment of injuries, and wouldn't comment further. And at yesterday's team breakfast, he again brought up Philpot's health.

"He was hurt," Ritchie said. "He needed to get a rest and try to get some of his injuries cleaned up. And we had an opportunity to play another youngster [Tony Jackson].

"There were injuries to his ankle, leg and knee. Because of that, mentally he was having some problems. He wasn't able to compete at the level he needed to compete at, so we just put him down."

Philpot got back up Oct. 29, torching Las Vegas for 150 yards. But he was held to 35 yards in the regular-season finale against Calgary, and 26 and 35 yards in two playoff games. Still, Philpot said he feels the same as when he was racking up huge numbers.

"I'm healthy, I'm ready to go out there and play football, and all they've got to do is give me the chance and let me go," he said.

For B.C., the timing would be perfect for Philpot to break loose Sunday. "I see myself carrying a big load," he said.

Said Ritchie: "I hope he's back at that level, but my kids are

going to eat whether he is or not."

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