CFL media are a knowledgeable bunch and those who cover the Saskatchewan Roughriders are especially in tune with every detail of their local team.
However, when Brayden Lenius sat down in front of the camera for his first training camp interview, it took even the most savvy veteran reporter an extra second to recognize the second-year receiver.
It’s hard to blame anyone. When he rolled into Regina as the team’s 2019 second-round CFL Draft pick, Lenius tipped the scales at over 240 pounds, round-faced and wide-eyed.
After 18 months away from football, not only has the sophomore Canadian emerged as one of the stars of training camp, but his body looks transformed and his face almost unrecognizably lean. It’s as if Brayden Lenius has disappeared, and an upgraded version placed in his stead.
“This is the new one. This is the one you get. Now, the other one’s old,” the receiver laughed at the compliments rolling in, just a touch of pride in his voice.
After a rookie year that saw him make just two catches for four yards, Lenius knew something had to change. So did his coaches.
“We told him to lose weight,” head coach Craig Dickenson freely admitted.
“His first year here, he was a big, strong, thick guy. I’m not sure what he weighed, but it was a lot. We wanted him to be big because we wanted to use him almost as a pass-catching tight end in our offence. After a full season of that, we realized that’s probably not the right fit for him.”
While he may have followed the advice of coaches, it was Lenius who executed the dramatic change. He laid the foundation working with receivers coach Travis Moore before the pandemic, hitting the gym religiously and transitioned to a plant-based pescatarian diet. The end result, a whopping 26 pounds trimmed off his six-foot-five frame.
“Some of it found me and some of the other coaches. He lost it and we gained it,” Dickenson chuckled.
“It says a lot about him. He’s serious about football. The guy wants to be good and athletically, he’s got talent. Mentally, he’s picking up our offence fairly well. He could have a breakout year.”
That was the plan all along. With veteran Cory Watson’s departure after the 2019 season and the Riders hoping to start two Canadian receivers whenever they returned, Lenius had a golden opportunity to grasp on the football field. He also had a chance to improve his own life for the future.
“Not to get too personal, but my dad passed away pretty young and his diet… Well, he was like me when he was young, but he died at a heavy weight,” Lenius acknowledged. “That kind of puts a little extra stress on how I want to live my life.”
His father, Troy Dickey, died suddenly from a stroke in 2017 on his way to watch his son play for the University of Washington in the Fiesta Bowl, he was just 46.
Back then, Lenius was the same size as he is now, but he packed on weight while trying to convert to tight end after transferring to New Mexico in 2018. Shaving it off was difficult but necessary, for both life and his football career.
“I’m able to do more things on the line. I’m able to run by guys now, which at 240 I wasn’t doing,” Lenius said. “It just gives me more confidence when I’m on the field and it puts me in a better position because I can actually move, I’m more agile and I’m a lot faster now.”
Of course, there are trade-offs.
“I think the worst for me is I’m a huge chicken wing fanatic and when I go out with my family or my lady, that’s honestly the hardest for me. I always want to pick them up and eat it,” he grinned.
From now on, he has to settle for cauliflower bites. In exchange, he’s all but guaranteed himself a starting job and a key role in the Riders offence. Poised to become one of the surprise stars of the 2021 season, Lenius is looking to the past for inspiration.
“To have Canadian talent be able to show that we can play just as well as anybody else, it’s important,” he said. “If you look at the Canadian Air Show back in the day, they had three Canadians rolling and they were successful. I kind of want to bring that back and bring that Canadian Air Show back.”
Of course, that was a Freudian slip. Lenius meant the Canadian Air Force, with its trio of Andy Fantuz, Chris Getzlaff, and Rob Bagg, along with a healthy helping of Jason Clermont.
The Canadian Air Show is what we will be calling Brayden Lenius all season.