The Saskatchewan Roughriders are scouring the United States to find the best American talent possible and head coach Craig Dickenson is taking an open-minded approach to the process.
Joining the SportsCage radio show in Regina by phone this week as his team preps for a full slate of open tryouts down south, Dickenson admitted that coaches never quite know what to expect from these events.
“You keep your eyes open and try to see if there’s a guy or two that catches your eye, that maybe we feel like has skills that can transfer to the CFL,” he explained.
“As you know, there’ll be guys there that never played football hardly, that just want to go out and run a 40 and see how they hold up against others. Then there’ll also be guys there that played at the major universities and even NFL guys there. You get all different sorts of dudes there, so you just want to try to give them the best workout you can and see what happens.”
Buried in the mass of bodies vying for an opportunity are usually diamonds in the rough. A wild variation in talent level means that there is no set template for those types of discoveries and Dickenson has examples to draw on what he’s looking for.
“One guy that sticks out is Tobi Antigha, who was with us for a year when [Chris] Jones was coaching,” Dickenson recalled. “He came to the workout as a receiver. He’s a big dude, we knew he wasn’t fast enough to play receiver, so we said: ‘Let’s have you rush the passer a little bit.’ He did that and he did quite well.”
Discovered in 2017 out of Presbyterian College, Antigha became an instant contributor for the Riders, making 30 defensive tackles, six special teams tackles, and five sacks. His versatility was maximized in Jones’ creative defensive scheme and he also spent time at linebacker and safety, adding 21 defensive tackles, two special teams tackles, two sacks, three interceptions and a defensive touchdown.
Antigha has since spent time with the Toronto Argonauts and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, winning a Grey Cup in 2021. He will be reunited with Jones after signing with the Edmonton Elks for next season.
The versatile defender provides an excellent example of what a keen scouting eye can discover at these types of open tryouts, but he is far from alone in that regard.
“That’s the one guy that his story stands out, but there’s lots of guys like that where they just need an opportunity, small school kids that maybe didn’t get a lot of looks,” Dickenson noted. “There’s been a lot of good football players over the years that have played up in Canada and played well, and they were discovered at these sort of workouts.”
The Riders search for those players begins this weekend with a pair of tryouts in Florida, before stops in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Dallas over the next month.
The handful of players that earn themselves a contract from those events will still enter training camp at a disadvantage compared to players the team may have actively recruited from their negotiations list, but with pre-season games returning in 2022, they’ll have opportunities to prove themselves.
“I think every team has a story of somebody that you’re not sure about and you put ’em in the game and then all of a sudden magic happens,” Dickenson said.
“That’s the neat thing about pro sports, that’s the neat thing about pro football. Hopefully this year we’ll have a couple of similar stories with the Roughriders.”