November 16, 2012

Leaving with a Good Vibe

Mitchell Blair 

All CFL teams have to do it, but for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, cleaning out the dressing room came a little too early this year. The team was glad they had the opportunity to play one playoff game this year unlike last year, but there was still a feeling that the team should have been preparing for this Sunday’s Western Final in Vancouver instead of clearing their stall out and saying good-bye.  However, as they say good-bye, they also leave knowing that if back they are on the verge of what seemingly is a good situation.

For quarterback Darian Durant, it was a year where he didn’t pilot the team to the Grey Cup as he did in his first two years as the starter, but it was also a season unlike last where his team made the playoffs. Despite the fact the team got in the playoffs, Durant was still not happy with the end result.

If you’re not winning a championship, it’s still an all-time low if you ask me..” Durant surmised. “The older you get, the more you realize that the chances are winding down to get that championship. There are no moral victories in there, so it was definitely a devastating day — especially because I felt like that was a game we could have had. We should be in here game-planning right now. But, in reality, we just have to build on the things that we did positive and bring it into next year.’’ When he looks at next year, Durant is very optimistic.

“No doubt about it.” Durant said. “We saw what it takes to win a playoff game, and that’s being disciplined. You can’t have any mental errors. You can’t have breakdowns on either side of the ball. I think the young guys see that. They see how important it is to stay focused for all 60 or 65 plays of a game. I think guys will be a lot more mature next year and  those mistakes that we made this year that cost us in close games won’t happen and we should be able to come out on top next year.’’

In speaking at the end of the year, Head Coach Corey Chamblin said he was feeling positive about 2013 and beyond because of all the first year talent the team assembled including running back Kory Sheets. Sheets had a tremendous 2012 running for over 1,000 yards and becoming one of the CFL’s best tailbacks. He is already planning for a sensational sophomore campaign.

“I’ll be a whole lot better next year.” a confident Sheets said. “Week in, week out, I didn’t know what to expect, but now I do so I can focus on knowing the game-plan and taking my game to a different level. If we can do what we did this year, I know I can repeat and top what I did this year. I’m hoping I can be a bigger part of the offense in 2013 and that I can show the coaching staff that I’ve strengthened myself in some areas to make me more of a threat than I was this year.”

Another first year player that made an impact was Canadian linebacker Sam Hurl. The Riders traded up to get the University of Calgary linebacker and that decision by GM Brendan Taman proved to be a prudent one as Hurl impressed on special teams. Hurl leaves knowing that his rookie season was a success, but that it’s time to attempt being a member of the starting defensive unit when the 2013 season begins.

“It was an exciting season and one that exceeded my expectations,” Hurl said. “I worked my butt off in camp and during the season to make the roster and maintain my spot on the roster and answered my goal. My goal 100 percent for next year is to come back, step in and play some defence. That will be my goal in the off-season and in training camp next year to get back here and do what it takes to be in that starting 12.”

One player that may or may not be in the starting 12 next season is defensive end Odell Willis. Willis, who tied for the team lead in sacks with six, was brought over in a trade with Winnipeg in the off-season and while he improved the team’s pass rush, Willis is a free-agent and he has no idea if he will be back or if the NFL might come calling.

“I just want to take a shot in the NFL,” Willis said “If it doesn’t work and the team wants me back, I’ll be here in a heartbeat.  I just want to make sure that if I can get a shot at the NFL that I take it so I can see if I’m on the same level as those guys, Money doesn’t mean anything. I just want to see if I can get that shot.”

Another Rider who is a free agent is linebacker Mike McCullough. The 10 year vet has no idea what the organization’s plans for him are and whether or not he fits in the future. He is hoping to squeeze one more contract out of the team but says if it doesn’t happen than he is likely done.

“I still think I have something to contribute,” the 32-year-old said. “That loss to the Stamps leaves a bitter taste in my mouth and I don’t want to go out like that. I can’t see myself playing anywhere else so if I don’t get an offer I guess it’s over. I’ll talk to Brendan Taman over the next few days and see what’s up.”

What happens over the next six months is anyone’s guess, but those leaving hope they are back to try and help the team to a championship in 2013 when the Grey Cup game is played at Mosaic Stadium. Some will get the opportunity while others won’t have the chance. However, all leave hoping their football careers continue and that if it’s in the CFL that the task of cleaning out the locker-room and saying good-bye happens a little later in November and that the farewells are said after experiencing a season they’ll never forget.