CFL special teams award winner Mario Alford was sunshine on Riders’ cloudy season

Photo: Arthur Ward/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

One would have to grasp at straws to find a silver lining in the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ 2022 season.

Or you could look at kick return ace Mario Alford, who won the CFL’s Most Outstanding Special Teams Player award on Thursday night after posting three kick return touchdowns during an abbreviated season in Regina.

It was a season in which the green and white lost 11 of their final 13 games en route to a 6-12 finish and missed the playoffs, but Mario was glad to give Rider Nation something to get excited about.

“I feel like I gave them a spark that was missing,” Alford said upon accepting the aw And unfortunately, things didn’t go the way we wanted (them) to. But you know that happens and we want to (improve) this upcoming year.”

Alford led the way in kick return touchdowns by running a kickoff, punt and missed field goal back to the house on separate occasions. Some in Saskatchewan dubbed it the “Gizmo effect” in reference to Alford wearing the same number as the great Henry “Gizmo” Williams wore through 14 brilliant seasons in the CFL.

Alford just does his own thing and confesses he’s never spent much time learning about the Giz.

“Not really”, Alford said. “I know who he is. I’ve heard about him. I’ve never really looked at his game or his film but heard great things about him. I heard he was a great returner and I’m sure he’s a great guy. I’ve never really looked him up and like I said, I’m just a mellow guy that just kind of goes with the flow.”

Alford has decided to go with the flow for at least one more year in Saskatchewan, re-upping with a contract extension that will carry him through the 2023 season.

“It was between the team and myself and my agent”, said Alford.

“The deal was right for me and my situation. We just felt like they offered me first. They came at me and we went back and forth and the deal was right and we felt like it was a great deal and we got it done.”

“Also, I love Rider Nation so I wanted to be back.”

To win the award, Alford beat out a man he started the season on the same roster as him, Alouettes kick returner Chandler Worthy. Montreal acquired Worthy when Alford was hurt to begin the year, then traded their original returner once he got healthy.

In effect, Alford beat out the man who Montreal chose to keep over him.

“Yeah, it’s crazy man”, Alford said. “We talked about that earlier. It’s just crazy how life works sometimes, so crazy.”

It is the job of Rider management to get its fanbase excited and lately, that excitement has been lacking in Regina.

Unless Saskatchewan is able to land Bo Levi Mitchell as its next quarterback, the Riders and their fans won’t have much else positive to cling to. If they do pull that unlikely rabbit out of their hat, it won’t happen before February.

Mario Alford gives them something in the meantime. He has been Rider nation’s sunshine on a cloudy season.

Brendan McGuire has covered the CFL since 2006 in radio and print. Based in Regina, he has a front-row view of Rider Nation.