‘The guys that are from Saskatchewan it means a little bit more’: Riders aware of homegrown talent available in CFL Draft

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant / CFLPhotoArchive.com

The Roughriders are well aware of the homegrown talent available in the CFL Draft, but the green and white won’t choose players just based on ties to Saskatchewan.

“We’re going to try to get the best player available, regardless of where he’s from, but if it’s a tie the reality is the guys that are from Saskatchewan it means a little bit more to them,” Riders head coach Craig Dickenson said.

“When it means a little bit more sometimes you get just a little bit more effort, sometimes you get a little more effort in the off-season and sometimes you get a little more effort in terms of connecting with the community.”

The consensus No. 1 offensive lineman in the 2022 class, Noah Zerr was born and raised in small Langenburg, SK — population 1,165. He started at left tackle for the University of Saskatchewan and helped open holes for fellow first-team All-Canadian, running back Adam Machart. The record-setting runner is from Saskatoon just like Huskies defensive ends Nathan Cherry and Riley Pickett.

The University of Regina had three players at the CFL Combine in March, receiver Riley Boersma, defensive back Brandon Gandire and linebacker Ryder Varga represented the Rams. Varga has the potential to be the best pro at his position from the group this year and grew up in the Saskatchewan capital.

“All things equal, we’re going to always defer to the best athlete, the guy that helps our team the most, but we certainly are aware of players that have local ties, whether it be they’re from Saskatchewan or have relatives in Saskatchewan. We feel like it means more to those guys, so it certainly doesn’t hurt them,” Dickenson said.

Last year the Roughriders selected University of Saskatchewan defensive back Nelson Lokombo in the first round, second overall. However, he missed the entire season due to an Achilles tear suffered prior to training camp. In 2020, the Riders chose Huskies offensive lineman Mattland Riley in the first round, seventh overall. During the 2019 pick-fest, Regina-born receiver Brayden Lenius was taken in the second round, 15th overall.

“If we feel good about the majority of our positions that are Canadian, then we’ll always take the best player, I think that’s the correct course of action for us,” general manager Jeremy O’Day said regarding his team’s draft strategy.

After finishing his playing career on the offensive line in 2010 as a three-time CFL all-star and three-time Grey Cup champion, O’Day went into scouting hired as Saskatchewan’s assistant GM. He’s been in football operations roles for 12 years, 11 seasons, in the CFL and all of his time so far has been with the Roughriders.

“I’ve been to a lot of combines and players now are so much better prepared than they have been in the past,” O’Day said. “We get excited when we see some of the Canadian kids that are testing just as high as the guys at the NFL Combine. It’s a kudos to the Canadian kids and Canadian programs, since I’ve been in the league it’s only improved.”

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.