Shaq Evans has found a new home with the Ottawa Redblacks, but he remains disappointed in his former team’s decision to move on from him after two injury-plagued seasons.
The ex-Saskatchewan Roughrider joined TSN 1200’s The Drive this week and admitted that he felt he was no longer wanted by the leadership in Regina.
“That’s just my honest opinion and I think they would say the same, the people in charge there. I just felt like I fell out of favour because of the injuries and things like that,” Evans acknowledged. “There’s no hard feelings, it’s a business so I understand it’s a tough decision. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t easy for them to let me walk and let me move on, but it is what it is.”
The 31-year-old Evans broke into the CFL with the Riders in 2018, posting 50 receptions for 785 yards in his first season. He was named a league all-star the next year following a breakout campaign in which he made 72 catches for 1,334 yards and five touchdowns.
However, the six-foot-one, 210-pound target has struggled to stay healthy over the past two seasons, dressing for only 17 games since the league returned to the field after the COVID-19 pandemic. Evans recorded 57 receptions for 711 yards and two majors over than span.
He suffered the same injury in back-to-back years, albeit on different legs: he broke a bone in his left leg in 2021 and a broken bone in his right leg in 2022. While the injuries kept him off the field, Evans is confident they’ve done nothing to impact his long-term playing ability. In fact, they may have even granted him some added longevity.
“I guess the one thing I can take away from my injuries is it took some games off my legs so maybe that added another year or two to my prime,” he predicted.
Nevertheless, the Riders determined that Evans was no longer worth the investment and allowed him to walk in free agency, a move he long suspected. Other teams felt similarly once he hit the open market and the former fourth-round NFL Draft pick is determined to use those sleights as motivation — even though he admits they are partially self constructed.
“It might not be true but I’ve just put it in my head that the league, they forgot about me, they forgot about what I can do,” Evans explained. “That just pushes me every day to push harder, work harder, get that extra rep in, all that stuff because I know what I can do but I need to show it again because it’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately sport.”
“Just like they said about Michael Jordan during The Last Dance, he just created scenarios in his head just to push him, push him, push him. That’s what I’m doing this offseason, creating those scenarios. Telling myself they don’t care about you no more, they don’t think you’re this, they don’t think you’re that.”
One team with a different assessment of his skills was the Redblacks, an organization he views as being on the cusp of a breakout. The opportunity to work with head coach Bob Dyce, offensive coordinator Khari Jones, and quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was a major selling point but so was the chance to reunite with his former receivers coach Travis Moore.
Moore was fired by the Riders following a disappointing 2022 season, a decision that the coach dubbed “a blessing in disguise.” He quickly landed on his feet, landing the role of receivers coach and pass game coordinator in Ottawa, and now serves as a major draw for his former players.
“He’s a guy who’s always gonna keep it 100 with you, keep it straightforward, not gonna beat around the bush and that’s what we appreciate as pro athletes,” Evans said. “At the end of the day, we don’t like those gray areas or guys that just say what you want to hear. He’s gonna tell you exactly what you need to hear, whether you’re starting, or the backup, or whatever.”
“He coaches me hard, he coaches the last guy in the room hard. He keeps it fair, he’s not biased at all. He’s also an L.A. native as well, just like myself, and I think we relate in that sense. We got very close in the four years we had that player-coach relationship.”
While the structure of the team and coaching staff was the most important factor in his decision to sign with the Redblacks, Evans could not hide his excitement about the city of Ottawa. The very first road trip he took in his CFL career was to the nation’s capital and he considers it to be a “beautiful” location, vastly different from what he experienced in Riderville.
“Regina’s a great place but even the people that live there know it’s a small place. It’s a good place to raise a family and things like that but very small and there’s really not much to do there, especially in the wintertime,” Evans admitted. “The winters are brutal. I’ve been there every month you can think of — December, January, February — so I know how bad it can be.”
There is no question that ice skating down the Rideau Canal will be a more pleasurable winter activity than braving prairie frost bite, but the Inglewood, Calif. native says he’ll still remember his four seasons with the Riders fondly. It was simply time for everyone to turn the page.
“I’ll always cherish the years that I spent there but that chapter’s done,” he said. “I’m an Ottawa Redblack now and I’m looking forward to the year that we’re going to have.”