Saskatchewan Roughriders head coach Craig Dickenson was working in his Mosaic Stadium office when general manager Jeremy O’Day shared the unexpected devastating news.
Projected starting middle linebacker Larry Dean went down with an Achilles injury on the turf outside while working out on the field. Minutes later, O’Day called Dickenson into his office and told him multiple players had gone down with the same setback.
“That was a gut shot. And that was something I’ve never experienced in all my years in football. To hear it was not just one but another and another, it was really heartbreaking for me,” Dickenson said in a video conference.
“I wish the coaches could’ve been out there to be quite honest with you, I don’t think you’d have seen four if there had been coaches on the field.”
Along with Dean, defensive lineman Freddie Bishop III, 2021 first-round CFL Draft pick, defensive back Nelson Lokombo, and 2020 sixth-round choice, running back Jonathan Femi-Cole suffered season-ending injuries. The series of Achilles tears ripped through the entire Riders franchise.
“It was a gut punch to me, the entire organization felt it. The sun comes up tomorrow, but really unfortunate for all four of those guys and something that hurt us all immensely and we’re slowly trying to build the moral back up,” Dickenson said.
“We’ll certainly look at everything that we’ve done, I believe there’s a lot of factors that led to it, but ultimately it’s our responsibility as coaches and as leaders to take care of our people, and we failed in that. We asked the team to basically let us earn their trust back.”
Dickenson did not know if the CFL would discipline the team for what occurred. He stated the team followed the protocols with no footballs on the field while the players were trying to maintain physical distancing and the local athletes were separate from the out-of-towners.
“I’m sure the league’s not happy. Trust me, we’re not happy either. It’s going to hurt us for a while not to mention the four young men who don’t get to play football this season. Something went really wrong and we’re going to look at it. What the CFL does is up to them and we’ll accept whatever they decide,” Dickenson said.
The Riders removed a 10-minute one-on-one competitive period from the opening practice of training camp as a result of what happened. The offence and defence stayed apart all day on opposite sides of the field — there were no competitive periods whatsoever. That will be the same plan on day two and for day three Dickenson hopes competitive periods can return.
“It’s a real gut shot. I think the team is still in a little bit of shock to be quite honest, but we’re going to work through it and try to support those guys as best we can. Try to give them all the reassurances that we can that we’ll do everything we can to get them healthy again and back on the field,” Dickenson said.
“As a coach, knowing that it really was damaging to our team, but also as just a human being and knowing that you got four young men that have worked really hard to put themselves in position to play football.”
The 49-year-old bench boss wants to allow time for players to process the shellshocking events and move towards preparing for competing in August when the CFL season kicks off.