The term ‘Achilles heel’ isn’t supposed to be taken literally, but in 2021, the Saskatchewan Roughriders wished that they could have been dunked entirely in the River Styx.
Over the course of the year, a grand total of six Riders players were lost to torn Achilles tendons. That amounted to more of the season-ending injuries — each with a long and arduous recovery — than general manager Jeremy O’Day had ever seen.
“We probably matched or went ahead of the amount of Achilles that I’ve seen in my whole career,” O’Day said in his year-end address. “It’s not a real common injury, you might see one or two a year and this year was a lot different with the number we had. It’s about reattaching it and starting the rehab on it.”
The Riders’ rash of Achilles tears began on one particularly bloody Thursday. During the third day of authorized on-field workouts during the CFL’s pre-training camp quarantine period, four separate Riders suffered the same injury during routine drills. That list included projected starters Larry Dean and Freddie Bishop III, as well as Canadian draft picks Nelson Lokombo and Jonathan Femi-Cole.
The incident drew the ire of the CFLPA for potentially violating their player safety guidelines, but all four players are on schedule for a return next season. That is uplifting news for the whole team.
“By the end of the season a lot of them were running. It was an emotional year with those guys, when that happens at the beginning of the season and those guys are here everyday and they’re on crutches and they got their little carts that they’re wheeling around on and there’s four of them that are all rehabbing together, you feel for those guys that they didn’t even get to put a helmet on this year,” O’Day explained.
“It was nice to see them eventually get out of the walking boot, get off crutches, start limping and all of a sudden they’re walking normal, sprinting. A lot of them stuck around and trained together, they certainly had each other. They’ll be medically cleared to play football probably by the end of this month.”
In fact, recovery went so well for a number of the bloody Thursday victims that they were pushing for a return in 2021, and may have been successful had the CFL season not been shortened due to COVID-19.
“We had a couple of them that were trying to push to get back for the end of the year. We might have had one or two of them back if it was a full season, which is pretty amazing,” O’Day acknowledged. “There were a couple of them that were running outside my office and showing me that they could backpedal and saying they were ready to go, but they just weren’t close enough.”
Riders fans can expect the two young Canadians in training camp next year, while both Dean and Bishop are pending free agents.
Unfortunately two other in-season Achilles sufferers have a longer timeline for recovery. Defensive end Tim Williams is two months behind the rest of the pack, while receiver Ricardo Louis unfortunately suffered his in the final week of the season and is unlikely to be healed in time for training camp.
“Ricardo’s was much later, he’s still pretty fresh into his injury. Tim Williams did his rehab at home and all indications are he had a successful surgery, healthy and working out,” O’Day said.