Shaq Evans has become the Riders’ go-to receiver.
Cody Fajardo trusts Evans through a relationship the two have built on the fly.
Evans missed all of training camp during the final stages of his rehab from shoulder surgery and Fajardo was signed in the off-season. The pair didn’t work together until the regular season kicked off. After Zach Collaros was literally knocked from the starting quarterback role, Fajardo took over and Evans caught eight passes for 108 yards and one touchdown in their first game together.
“He was a guy that looked prepared at all times from what I saw. It shows because his first start against Ottawa he threw for over 400 yards. That just shows you the type of focus that he has and the preparation that he does even though he didn’t even know he was going to be the starter,” Evans said.
“He’s in the film room all the time. He’s one of the last people to leave the building. That’s what you want in your quarterback. It’s encouraging when you see your quarterback taking that time to understand the defences and where he wants to go with the ball. That’s why he’s having so much success this season.”
Fajardo led the league throwing for 4,302 yards and 28 total touchdowns, 18 of which came through the air. Saskatchewan was 12-4 under Fajardo while clinching the West Division regular season title. The Riders’ offence has become more potent because of the chemistry developed between Fajardo and Evans.
“Every day we walk through after practice just to fine tune the details. Work through details of routes and plays that went wrong in practice or that we didn’t get to run in practice to get the timing down and understand it better and why we’re doing it. So when the game does come it’s 100 percent easy to run and we know exactly what we want to do,” Evans said.
“Our offence is going to go the way that Shaq goes because he’s one of our guys who can be a deep ball threat or he can be an underneath guy, catch, break a tackle and make some plays. He’s been able to make contested catches, make catches down the field. That’s fuelled him this year, last year’s injury and him having a lot to prove to this league,” Fajardo said.
Evans recorded 72 catches for 1,334 yards and five touchdowns. His first 1,000-yard season while displaying the potential to be a long-term No. 1 target in the CFL. There were flashes shown in 2018 when the 28-year-old nabbed 50 balls for 785 yards.
“He had shoulder surgery in the off-season and you’d never know it. He trained all off-season to try to get back. He was in the weight room — you look at him he’s bigger, stronger, faster than he was last year,” head coach Craig Dickenson said.
Being healthy and productive has drawn NFL eyeballs for Evans. The UCLA product was selected in the fourth round, 115th overall of the 2014 NFL draft by the New York Jets. He spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve prior to being released by the Jets following training camp in 2015. Evans later bounced from practice squads in Jacksonville, New England and Dallas.
“It’s definitely a political game that happens in the NFL. Now that I’ve been in it, I understand it now so I know that the only way I would go back down there is if there is some money on the table that is guaranteed. I don’t want to go down there and waste my time for five to six months and not even get a fair chance,” Evans said.
“End up being back up there anyway when I could’ve just stayed up here and signed a bigger contract. That’s definitely something you factor in because of experience. I know it’s a tough deal, so it would have to be a legitimate opportunity for me to actually leave here and go back down there.”
The first time around in the NFL, Evans earned $860,100 with most of it coming in 2014. He knows money talks in terms of being afforded a legitimate opportunity to make an NFL roster. It’s a shot he wants to take one more time, but only if the chance is authentic.
“Obviously the aspirations are to go back to the States and play in the NFL,” Evans said. “But I’m just focused on being a Saskatchewan Roughrider right now and trying to win a Grey Cup. All that stuff will come with time.”