August 29, 2019

Hogan: Argos make key signing just before the LDC

Over the course of his career, Toronto Argonauts General Manager Jim Popp has signed some dynamic offensive weapons who have been on the smallish side. In Montreal he brought players like Chad Owens, Ben Cahoon, Chris Rainey and Larry Taylor to the CFL. Still, he may have made his biggest little signing ever on Thursday.

By comparison, Darius Raso makes that foursome all seem like giants. At 4’0”, 50 pounds, the running back doesn’t look like he’d make an impact on a pro football team.

That’s anything but the case.

Raso signed a one-day contract with the Argos on Thursday, heady stuff for a seven-year old who had trouble finding gloves that fit him – or a helmet, or shoulder pads, or pants.

He did fill out his new Double Blue jersey though, adorned with his favourite number seven. For the record, neither Raso nor Robert Woodson would confirm what the defensive back received for him to give up that number for the day.

Why the hype about the signing? For the past year Darius Raso has been fighting acute lymphocytic leukemia, tough enough for anyone, but particularly hard on someone so young. He’s used his love of football to help get him through the tougher days.

On Thursday, football showed him love back.

He came in early and got to meet some of the players and coaches, including his favourite player, James Wilder Jr. They immediately became best friends.

A media conference was held at BMO Field, with Popp making the signing official at the podium, with the lights and camera on, members of the media present, and in front of the entire football personnel department.

From there it was off to the locker room, where he arrived to find his own locker, adorned with his name and number, and nestled in between his now fellow running backs Brandon Burks and Declan Cross.

After a quick lesson from Wilder on how to celebrate a touchdown, it was off to Lamport Stadium for practice, where he did some drills with his new teammates, punctuated by his first ever CFL touchdown, a scamper of roughly 75 yards.

When practice was over it was back to BMO Field for some goodbyes, and just like that the day was over as quickly as it began.

His presence won’t leave the building as quickly as he did. The effect the Raso family had on the Argos was profound, and it sounds like it’s a two-way street.

“It just reinforces there’s a lot of good people in the world,” said Darius’ father Marc after practice was over. “The Argos stepped up and made it one of the best days he’s ever had. It’s been a lot of fun.”

What made it particularly special for Marc Raso is that the day was that it wasn’t just about Darius.

“Some stuff that he’s been doing has been centred around him, this wasn’t,” he explained. “This was mainly centred around him, but to have my other two kids and my wife here, to be all included and to be treated so well the whole day.”

While everyone was in his corner, Darius’ biggest supporters were father Marc, mother Cassandra, siblings Alyssia and Marcas and his new best friend and teammate, Wilder Jr.

At practice it was like a shark with a remora. The two seemed permanently attached whether it was during drills, stretching, or during Darius’ TD run. If you saw young #7, #32 wasn’t far away.

Darius is a man of very few words, more like Armanti Edwards than Wilder Jr., but he did let know that “Running up and down the sidelines and signing the contract” were his favourite parts of the day.

It may have been shyness, it may have been how overwhelmed he was by the situation, but when the newest running back sat down at his locker with he was smiling. A lot. So was So was anyone who encountered the family during the day.

It was a much-needed respite from the day-to-day grind for the family as well, especially Darius.

“He’s not talking about cancer, he’s not talking about the full day he spent in the hospital,” said his father, who admitted getting emotional at times during the day. “It’s making him forget about what else is going on.”

For a few hours on Thursday Darius Raso put real life on the backburner and became a member of the team he was in the stands cheering for, four weeks to the day earlier. This time it was members of the Double Blue cheering for him, and the echoes of those cheers will resonate throughout the locker room for a long time to come.