As the 3-0 Saskatchewan Roughriders trotted off the field last Saturday, Kian Schaffer-Baker found himself needing to take another lap around Mosaic Stadium.
It was the rookie Canadian receiver’s first career game and it didn’t take him long to make an impact. Thrust into action mid-way through the game, Schaffer-Baker never looked remotely out of place. He finished as his team’s second-leading receiver, catching four passes for 64 yards en-route to a 23-10 victory.
Asked what was going through his mind as he walked around the field post-game, Schaffer-Baker had few words.
“I was just soaking it all up,” he smiled. “It was the best experience of my life. I’ve just got to give thanks to God for it.”
The walk itself wasn’t all quiet reflection however. After announcing his presence to Rider Nation, some fans wanted to get to know their newest standout. The rookie was happy to oblige and one particular fan caught his attention.
“I didn’t know them, but they were asking for a picture. I was delighted to do that,” Schaffer-Baker explained. “One of the girls was wearing number 89. It was a Duron Carter jersey, but I told her we’ll have to get her a Schaffer-Baker one soon.”
The 2020 fourth-round pick out of Guelph has inherited the number of the controversial former CFL receiver after fellow Canadian Brayden Lenius shed it in favour of number 19.
In Saskatchewan, it’s a number that was never far from the headlines in recent years, as Carter splashed No. 89 across the sports pages with big time plays and an even bigger mouth. Schaffer-Baker can only match him in one of those categories.
A favourite of several noted draft analysts, the six-foot-four, 195-pound pass catcher demonstrated elite athletic traits during four season in the OUA. Though he’s unlikely to replicate his predecessors’ transition to defence, Schaffer-Baker has Carter’s highlight reel ability and while he doesn’t lack confidence, he provides none of the brashness that his American counterpart brought to the table.
The rookie stood out consistently in training camp, earning him the next-man-up role in the Saskatchewan receiving corps. While the plan wasn’t to get him this much action so early, Schaffer-Baker was an instant and seamless fit into the Riders’ offence once forced on to the field.
“Schaffer came in and it wasn’t like he was out of place, he looked like he belonged,” quarterback Cody Fajardo said after the game. “It made me comfortable.”
His young receiver looked like he belonged because he’d been waiting for his moment for a long time. No game action for a year after being drafted gave Schaffer-Baker plenty of time to think about how to make his first impression on the CFL.
“I just had to be ready. I knew my time was going to come eventually,” he grinned. “I didn’t know when it was going to come, but I knew it was going to come at some point and as soon as I got my foot on that field, there was no turning back.”
His first meaningful action was a “buildup of emotions” with plenty of mistakes he believes he’ll have to correct after the Riders’ bye week, but it also showed a glimpse of the team’s future.
With Schaffer-Baker clearly ready to contribute, Brayden Lenius and Mitch Picton emerging, and other top draft picks like Justin McInnis and Terrell Jana providing starter level backups, Saskatchewan has the potential for a truly special national receiving corps. The only thing keeping some of them off the field is the high quality of Americans at that position group as well, giving the Riders flexibility to employ their ratio anyway they want.
“It definitely goes unnoticed a lot, us Canadian players, because we can come in and ball with you. We got some special talents amongst us, especially with our group,” Schaffer-Baker said. “We’ve got so many great Canadians and Americans. Our team is just full of ballers. It’s the best feeling.”
Better even than the feeling of his first CFL catch. While Schaffer-Baker soaked in his performance after the fact, needing to have a short-term memory in game gave him little time for celebration.
“It was amazing, but that’s just what I do every day. I come out here and catch footballs, so I’m used to it,” he said. “It was definitely a great experience getting the first one out the way, that gets the jitters and everything out, but now it’s just continue to grow off that and get better.”
He’s got four catches down and just 77 more to go to surpass Duron Carter’s total as a Rider, well on his way to changing a few nameplates on those number 89 jerseys around Mosaic Stadium.