Saskie born boys help open a new chapter in Riderville

Brendon LaBatte and Patrick Neufeld will help launch a new era of CFL football in Regina when their teams face off in the first regular-season game at the city’s new Mosiac Stadium on Saturday. But the two Saskatchewan-born offensive lineman will bring plenty of fond memories of old Taylor Field with them.

LaBatte , who will suit up for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, and Neufeld, who will dress for the rival Winnipeg Blue Bombers, took alternate paths to professional football, but both led through the old Mosiac facility six blocks west, known as Taylor Field until 2006.

Saturday’s game closes the book on what’s been a dramatic history at the old football grounds. Each lineman recalled getting his start on the gridiron there.

“It even goes further back than (university football), even to high school days – we were coming up here and playing,” said LaBatte, who started on the offensive and defensive lines for the Eagles in Weyburn, a small, one-high-school city about 115 kilometres south of Regina.

LaBatte went on to play with the University of Regina Rams. In 2007, he helped lead the team’s offence to an average of 396.9 yards per game and a 7-3 record. In 2008, the Blue Bombers drafted LaBatte in the first round, sixth overall.

“To be able to come back (to the old Mosiac Stadium) and play my first Labour Day game with the Blue Bombers … and then to have played in several others. It’s always a cool feeling,” he said.

For Neufeld, the old stadium was the site of a standout memory in his senior year. His offensive line helped win the high school football provincial championship for the Luther Lions, representing a small Regina school of little more than 400 students.

“That’s honestly like my first and only championship that I’ve ever won as an athlete in my entire life,” he said.

He went on to play four seasons with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies from 2008 to 2011. Many of those games saw his team travelling down highway 11 to Regina to face the Rams, returning him to his high school playing field.

Neufeld’s work in the trenches with head coach Brian Towriss’ team landed him a draft selection by his hometown Roughriders in 2010.

He played his first three seasons with the Riders at the old Mosaic Stadium.

“It was cool going through all those stages of football for me, from high school all the way through college, and then up into the professional league where I played a large portion of football at Taylor Field.

“That place is always going to hold a special place in my heart. I grew up going to Riders games there with parents and grandparents. Being a little kid and watching games in our section, experiencing games as a fan all the way to being a Roughrider and running out of the tunnel _ I’m definitely going to cherish some of those memories,” he said.

Each lineman now seems the consummate professional, remembering but moving on from the past, and focusing on Saturday’s game at Regina’s new stadium.

The hype surrounding the game _ new facility, Canada Day celebrations, the bitter Bombers-Riders rivalry _ is all secondary to the game.

Neufeld said that blocking out those distractions and overcoming the deafening crowd noise in the new environment will be his and the offensive line’s focus on Saturday.

Communication between the front five is especially key when they face a Roughriders defence led by Chris Jones, who typically designs rush and blitz packages meant to confuse any reads the offensive line attempts, he said.

As for LaBatte, he said Saturday’s contest doesn’t come close to prepping for bigger games.

“After playing in the Grey Cups, if you can sit around and hold your water all day that day, then you should be all right. (Saturday) will be just another game day, trying to get the pregame nap and almost keeping the mind out of it to keep the intensity from building up too early,” he said.

The Blue Bombers are coming off a Week 1 bye, while the Roughriders will look to rebound from a one-point loss in Montreal last week after kicker Tyler Crapigna missed a game-ending 45-yeard field goal attempt.

– CP

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