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April 27, 2017

Sam Eguavoen has had his fill of being a spectator

in CFL action between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the B.C. Lions on Saturday July 16th. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rick Elvin

Sam Eguavoen was a fixture at Mosaic Stadium during Saskatchewan Roughriders practices last season.

Unfortunately for Eguavoen, he was forced to sit in the stands for most of those workouts. A rookie linebacker with the CFL’s Roughriders in 2016, Eguavoen was sidelined after six regular-season games due to a season-ending knee injury.

And yet he sat there and watched.

“It definitely was difficult,” Eguavoen, 24, recalls with a chuckle from his off-season home in Dallas. “Coulda, shoulda, woulda.

“It was torture, but that’s pretty much all I could do. I wasn’t about to sit inside and watch SportsCentre.”

Now, Eguavoen is hoping to appear in TV highlight packages again in 2017. He says that his knee is 100 per cent, so he’s anxiously waiting for training camp to arrive.

At training camp in 2016, Eguavoen won the job as the Roughriders’ starting weak-side linebacker — and he started the season in fine fashion. The 6-foot-0, 227-pound product of Texas Tech University had 20 defensive tackles, two special-teams stops, two pass knockdowns and one tackle for loss through Saskatchewan’s first five games.

But in the Roughriders’ sixth game — Aug. 4 against the host Calgary Stampeders — Eguavoen suffered torn medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments in his left knee. He didn’t require surgery, but his season was over.

“(The level of frustration) was indescribable,” he says. “I felt like I missed out on the opportunity to grow with the defence after I got injured.

“I started off on such a good foot and everything just fell into place for me. I was trying to gel with the defence and I had to take that step back when I got injured.”

Throughout his rehabilitation, Eguavoen regularly took a seat in the stands to watch the Roughriders’ practices. He didn’t see them all — he laughingly admits it got a little too chilly for him late in the season — but he tried to take in as many as he could.

While being a spectator was tough for the rookie, it also served an educational purpose for him.

“I liked watching my teammates work,” Eguavoen says. “If there was something I wanted to learn from them, I’d ask. After they got done with practice, I watched the film with them to see what they did right and what they did wrong.

“Just because I was hurt didn’t mean that I took myself out of the game. I wanted to be as much a part of the team as I could.”

By staying connected, Eguavoen also set himself up to pick up some pointers for his future in the league.

“It’s good to be on the field and actually doing it, but when you watch and see what coaches are saying — ‘Hey, you’re doing this wrong. You need to learn to do this’ — you can learn a lot,” he says.

“By watching a full practice and seeing the coaches’ body language, you feel the same way they feel. You can see that a play is supposed to be run one way, but when a person runs it the wrong way, you’re like, ‘Now I see what (the coaches) are talking about.’

“I learned a lot from a player’s and coach’s perspective.’’

And now Eguavoen is eager to put everything he learned last season to use on the field in 2017.

During his stint as the starter, Eguavoen showed he was capable of covering receivers and of getting to the football. He wants to keep displaying those talents in 2017 — and more.

“I like watching my highlight tape, but I don’t want to live off what I did last season,” Eguavoen says. “If I come in and I’ve got to compete for a spot, that’s fine; that’s the type of person I am. I always work from the ground up.

“I don’t care what the media says about me, I’m going to work like I’ve got nothing. I’m going to work like this is my rookie year.”

Eguavoen takes pride in what he did in his actual rookie year, but his goal is to build on it. With the man who replaced him last season (Jeff Knox Jr.) gone to the NFL, Eguavoen is the frontrunner to man the weak-side spot again.

“I don’t need anybody to fill up my head or hype me by saying, ‘He did this or that last season,’ ’’ he says. “I know what I did, but I’m still going to come in this season and try to top that. The first game of the season, I’m going to try to top everything I did last year …

“A lot of people could be thinking (his showing in 2016) was a gimmick or it was luck. I’m going to try to prove those people wrong. I’m going to just ball out this year.”