TROIS-RIVIÈRES, Que. — Montreal Alouettes running back William Stanback lost 10 pounds over the off-season, but he hasn’t lost any confidence.
Coming off a 2021 season where he led the CFL with 1,176 rushing yards over 12 games and won the East Division’s outstanding player award, Stanback’s hopes of building on that campaign were quickly cut short by injury in 2022 — something he’s eager to make up for in 2023.
“I'm really excited, I just want to be able to showcase my talents again,” said the 28-year-old from Hempstead, N.Y. “I want to prove to everybody that this little ankle injury that I had is behind me, and that I'm back to how I used to be.
“The goal this year is to win the East … win the East and sit at home and wait to see who we going to play because I know for a fact this team can go all the way and go to the Grey Cup and win it.”
Feeling lighter, at about “230 (pounds) right now,” Stanback says he plans to keep dropping weight during training camp to become faster and elevate his game this season.
Alouettes head coach Jason Maas says Stanback's decision to get his weight down was unprompted by the coaching staff.
“The first time I talked to William, one of the first things he said is 'I'm going to get myself in shape, best shape I've been' and that was music to my ears,” said Maas. “When I hear that he's back into shape that he feels most confident, well watch out. That's all I can say.”
Stanback broke his ankle on just his third carry in last season’s opener against the Calgary Stampeders and missed the following 13 games.
Once back four months later, he wasn’t quite his dominant self, totalling 142 yards on 31 carries in the final four games of the season. Montreal made it to the East final against the eventual Grey Cup-champion Toronto Argonauts, where Stanback showed progress by running for a season-high 84 yards in the loss.
Stanback says the road to recovery took its toll, both physically and mentally.
“I just felt like I was kind of by myself because at the time I didn't have my wife and kids up in Montreal,” said Stanback. “It was just kind of hard just being by myself. … I promise you, being hurt like that, in the cast, sitting at home watching your guys go to war every weekend sucks, you know?
“I really tried my hardest to get back for the playoffs, even though I wasn't 100 per cent.”
What followed was an off-season of rigorous training.
Stanback stayed in Montreal to work out with strength and conditioning coach Pierre-Olivier Breault at the Olympic Stadium “every day” from January until training camp, motivated by how quickly he feels people forgot about him.
“I really just locked in and zoned in on me just making sure I get back, because I had the thought in my head that some people forgot about me in this league,” said Stanback. “I believe some analysts and commentators, they're a little skeptical of my play and how I'm going to come back.
“But I know how I'm going to come back, and this team knows how I'm coming this year.”
Stanback should have lots of opportunities to prove any doubters wrong under Maas’s offence, which is expected to have a lot of focus on the running game.
And as much as Stanback has expectations for himself, so does the coach.
“I expect great things,” said Maas. “He's a tremendous (running) back, and even at heavier weights he's proven he can carry the rock and do his job, but obviously a lean, mean version of him is probably even better.
“We've told him what the offence should look like with him back there and I think he's excited about that opportunity, we're excited about him.”
Alouettes general manager Danny Maciocia echoed those sentiments, adding that all he needs to see is a healthy Stanback because he knows what the running back is capable of doing.
“He's dialed in, he's focused, he's got a little bit of a chip on his shoulder due to the fact that last year unfortunately didn't work out the way he had planned,” said Maciocia. “He's coming with a little bit of an attitude that this is going to be a good season for him and he's going to pick up where he left off a couple years ago.”
Stanback’s hoping to do just that, and even take it a step further than the pandemic-shortened 2021 season: “Give me 18 games, I might run for 2,000.”
And now, with his family alongside him “from the beginning to the end,” he can’t wait to get started.
“Like I say man, I... oh man... words can't even describe the feeling that I have coming into this training camp, coming into the season.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2023.
Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press