A former member of the Saskatchewan Roughriders is looking to win his first Grey Cup ring this weekend against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Though the prospect of winning a championship is exciting in its own right, winning it on the same field he once called home would mean a little bit more.
Dariusz Bladek was a second-round pick of the Riders in the 2017 CFL Draft and played three seasons with them along the offensive line. He let his teammates know how badly he wanted to win the Grey Cup after securing a spot in the game with last’s week’s win over the Montreal Alouettes.
“When we were coming to Saskatchewan after the East Final, I spoke to my guys about what this meant to me coming back here,” Bladek told 3DownNation on Thursday.
“Me and (fellow offensive lineman) Philip (Blake) have talked about what it’s meant to me to come back here, for us to come back here. To raise that cup in this building would be something very personal and a very amazing feeling outside of just winning it, outside of the ring, outside of the cheque. It’s personal. We always wanted to win a cup here and maybe this is just the way it was meant to be, so I’m excited for it.”
Bladek started seven games at left guard for Saskatchewan in 2019 after Blake, also a former member of the Riders, suffered a broken leg. He was eventually replaced in the starting lineup by Brendon LaBatte when the future Hall of Fame blocker returned from a hip injury. Bladek never got another opportunity to start that year and was a healthy scratch for the West Final.
“After that game, I stayed on the field quite a bit of time and just took the moment in because I had a very good feeling I wasn’t going to be back (in Saskatchewan). At that point, not playing in that game after the year that I had here, the sacrifices that we’ve all made in our own ways, I knew that when that year was done that I was going to go find another place for myself,” said Bladek.
Bladek and Blake signed with the Argonauts as free agents in February 2020 and have been starters along Toronto’s offensive line ever since. The 28-year-old credits the “phenomenal room” of offensive linemen Saskatchewan had during his tenure with the team for helping him develop as a player, though he doesn’t regret leaving Regina.
“After those three years, learning so much from the amount of guys that came in and out, I really truly believed that it was time for me to go and take that next step and Toronto offered me that. They gave me the confidence not only in contract but in what they said to me coming out there and for me, I knew that’s what I needed,” said Bladek.
“I had a chip on my shoulder when I left here, 100 percent. I wanted to go prove myself somewhere else and prove that I’m that guy, so that’s the only thing that I’m gonna take away from it.”
The Riders struggled along the offensive line this season, allowing a league-worst 77 sacks. When asked if he suspects the club regrets letting him leave in free agency, Bladek elected to take the high road.
“That’s for them to say. All I can do is understand that there is a business, there is a logistics part to this and that’s not my part. I think I’ve done a very good job of showing that my play has improved and shown that my play speaks for itself. If they regret it, that’s on them.”