An improved Toronto Argonauts team has Squamish CFLer Joe Eppele riding high as the squad prepares for a date this Saturday (Sept. 15) in Vancouver against the B.C. Lions.
The Argos are tied atop the East Division with a record of six wins and four losses and Eppele told The Chief he thinks the offseason changes have made his team much stronger. Last year’s head coach Jim Barker moved to the general manager’s position and then hired Scott Milanovich to take over behind the bench, a move that Eppele endorses.
“The entire new coaching staff and everyone they’ve brought in has been amazing,” he said. “I really like what they’re doing with the program and the direction they’ve got us headed in. I can’t say enough about them.”
Toronto also made one of the biggest splashes of the offseason, acquiring two-time Grey Cup champion Ricky Ray from the Edmonton Eskimos. Eppele said he’s enjoyed lining up in front of the 2005 Grey Cup most valuable player.
“Having him out there brings a new confidence for our team,” he said. “He’s such a playmaker and a proven quarterback. It adds a lot of drive to the group.”
Lions fans may also see a familiar face at the pivot position as the Argos signed long-time B.C. backup quarterback Jarious Jackson. The Mississippi native was a part of two Grey Cup-winning teams in B.C.
“Jarious is a real clutch quarterback,” Eppele said, joking that Jackson didn’t reveal any inner workings of the Lions’ offence to his new teammates. “We’ve now got two great guys back there and have a lot of talent and depth at the position — which is something we haven’t always had.”
Eppele started at guard for the Argos’ first six games of the year, but was a spectator for the past four. He hopes to play in his home province and has even been taking some practice snaps playing on the defensive line, as opposed to his regular position on the offensive line. He said he’s willing to do anything to help the team.
“We have a little bit of lack of depth on the D-line and there’s a possibility of me bumping over for specific downs and distances,” he said. “I’m excited about it. It would be a big change, but I have complete faith in the coaching staff. I want to do anything I can to help the team no matter where I play.”
Eppele described the Lions as a “very skilled team with a lot of depth” and noted that the game should be a big test for the relatively new systems that the Argos have put in place.
While the Argos are having success on the field, Eppele is ensuring the team’s positive image off the field by taking part in a number of community initiatives. Eppele has been heavily involved in the Huddle Up for Bullying program and said it’s been a rewarding experience.
“We go around to different schools and speak to kids about our experiences with bullying,” he said, noting that he was teased as a youngster because of his size. “We inform them that we don’t need to suffer alone and help raise the severity of the situation with kids across Canada.
“I get more out of it than the kids do. When you’re done, you know that you’ve been a part of something that could potentially change these kids’ lives. It’s an amazing feeling.”
He added that he’s looking forward to returning to B.C. and plans to spend an extra day with family in Brackendale to celebrate his brother’s one year of sobriety. Eppele said the family plans to go bungee jumping in Whistler to mark the occasion.
Eppele and the Argos will take on the Lions at B.C. Place on Saturday. Kick-off is scheduled for noon.