March 20, 2017

Chad Owens touches down in Rider Nation

Asked Monday about CFL Week in Regina, Chad Owens said he wouldn’t miss it for the world.

He certainly covered a sizable portion of the globe to attend.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders receiver/returner flew from Honolulu to Vancouver to Calgary to Regina, where he’ll gladly participate in CFL Week festivities.

“With what the CFL has given my family and me, I don’t know if you can repay it,” Owens said after arriving at Regina International Airport. “Anytime I have an opportunity to give back and be a part of this and represent the league, I’m going to jump all over it.

“I haven’t been home to Hawaii in over two years and my vacation (in that state) got cut short by two days — which doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s a lot. I left my wife and kids there. They’re going to be heading back to Toronto on Tuesday. But it’s all worth it to me. It’s all worth it to us as a family.

“It’s the CFL. It’s what has given us a life (and) a livelihood.”

Owens, a 34-year-old product of Honolulu, has played in the CFL since 2009. He made a name for himself with the Toronto Argonauts from 2010 through ’15 before joining the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2016.

He signed as a free agent with the Roughriders in February and, on Monday, got his initiation into Rider Nation.

Mere moments after descending the stairs into the airport’s arrivals area, Owens was asked to sign autographs and pose for pictures with a few Roughriders fans.

He’s expecting to do that a few times.

“You can probably ask anyone across the league on any other team and they’d agree with me in saying that Saskatchewan is the best market in the league,” said Owens, who’s making his first visit to the province since signing.

“Every market has its fan base. If you play for Calgary, Calgary is going to be the best. If you play for Hamilton, which I did last year, (we had) great fans, great support. But let’s just be real: Saskatchewan has it all. And moving it forward this year with the new facility, the new stadium, it’s the highest of highs.”

Owens, who had seen pictures of new Mosaic Stadium, was looking forward to visiting his new home later Monday. He suggested the facility is “as it should be” for professional athletes — and it could help retain or attract players to Saskatchewan.

“It definitely feels great to have a facility that you can be proud of,” Owens said, “and (one that gets you) excited to wake up in the morning and go to work.”

Owens noted that he played high school football with Honolulu’s Roosevelt Rough Riders and that his college team, the University of Hawaii Warriors, wore uniforms that featured a colour scheme of black and green. Because of that …

“I like to believe that (joining the Roughriders) was meant to be,” he said with a chuckle.

Owens was the first CFL player to arrive in Regina on Monday, but he was to be followed by a wave of others as the day progressed. All of the players are to participate in a variety of events over the next two days, including autograph sessions, TV shoots and media availabilities.

The CFL also expected 85 team officials (from coaches to general managers to team executives) to descend on Regina, along with more than 80 CFL hopefuls who are to compete in the regional and national combines at the Credit Union EventPlex.

“It’s always great to be a part of these events,” Owens said. “The CFL has done a great job over the past couple of years in really making the players feel special. With the fans and the whole player-fan engagement, it’s at another level now.”

Many of the CFL’s American-born players head back to the United States after seasons end and don’t return until the following season is approaching.

Owens used to travel to Hawaii after the season, but he and his family now reside in Mississauga, Ont. It suits the low-key attitude that he feels CFL players should have.

“If you focus on being a star and want to be in the limelight, then you’re in the wrong business — because the CFL is not that,” he said. “You can be a star, but it’s much more than that. It’s love of the game.

“Up here, it’s being able to really interact with fans. It’s a different type of stardom. It’s about enjoying the ride. That’s all I’ve been doing throughout my whole career.”