July 12, 2017

Naaman Roosevelt is still a big hit with the Riders

The Saskatchewan Roughriders take on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in CFL action on July 8th, 2017 at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, SK. Derek Mortensen/Electric Umbrella

Judging by a post-game video taken inside the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ locker room, Naaman Roosevelt had a lot of fun Saturday.

Well, except for that time he got blown up at the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ goal line.

“I didn’t think (the hit) was that bad,” the third-year Roughriders receiver said following Saskatchewan’s 37-20 CFL victory at Mosaic Stadium. “The trainers thought it was bad, but I thought it was cool.

“I just wanted to get back in. I really just had a cramp, but they checked me out to make sure I was OK.”

The play in question occurred in the third quarter, when Kevin Glenn threw a high pass toward Roosevelt at the Hamilton goal line.

Roosevelt didn’t come down with the ball, but Tiger-Cats safety Courtney Stephen drilled the receiver anyway. Stephen was flagged for unnecessary roughness and, two plays later, Glenn found Duron Carter with an eight-yard touchdown pass to give Saskatchewan a 25-10 lead.

The shot from Stephen was the only rough patch Roosevelt hit all night. He caught 10 passes for 167 yards, made seven receptions on second downs that produced first downs, and had two receptions that exceeded 30 yards.

In the locker room after the game, Roosevelt was presented with the game ball for his monster game — and then he had to dance for his teammates.

“I think it was enjoyable,” Glenn said of Roosevelt’s game. “I think he had a great time catching the ball. That one hit he had, he probably didn’t want that, but for the most part, he enjoyed his day.

“If you had been in the locker room seeing him dance, you would have said the same thing.”

“(Offensive co-ordinator Stephen McAdoo) did a good job of putting me in the right positions,” Roosevelt added. “He called a couple of plays for me and I got open. I just wanted to make plays for my team.”

The 29-year-old receiver goes into Week 4 of the regular season ranked first among CFL receivers in second-down catches that result in first downs (12), second in both targets (32) and receptions (23), and third in receiving yards (285).

He won’t have a chance to improve on his numbers this week because Saskatchewan has a bye, but he already has made a statement about his health.

Through the Roughriders’ first 10 games last season, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound product of Buffalo was having a spectacular season, battling the Edmonton Eskimos’ duo of Adarius Bowman and Derel Walker for the league lead in receptions and receiving yards.

But in a game Sept. 10 against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Roosevelt hurt his right knee — and the injury ended his season.

Despite missing the Roughriders’ final seven regular-season games, he still finished ninth in the league in receiving yards (1,095) and tied for 13th in catches (76).

On Nov. 2, he was named Saskatchewan’s nominee for the award as the CFL’s most outstanding player. On Nov. 3, the Roughriders announced he had signed a contract extension through the 2018 season.

After undergoing surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his right knee, Roosevelt spent the off-season rehabilitating the injury. He was in constant contact with the Roughriders during his recovery, so they had no concerns that he would be ready to go in 2017.

So far, so good.

“I’ve definitely been motivated since the off-season,” Roosevelt said. “I worked as hard as I possibly could to get back. I got to training camp and was finally feeling good and going into the season (I was) trying to get better and better every day.

“That’s my main goal: Just get better and better.”

He seems to have returned to last season’s form. He had seven catches for 59 yards on June 22 in a 17-16 loss to the Montreal Alouettes and six grabs for 59 yards on July 1 in a 43-40, double-overtime loss to Winnipeg.

Then came Saturday’s eruption against the Tiger-Cats.

“He’s a tough guy,” Saskatchewan head coach-GM Chris Jones said. “He’s a very physical player and he’s one of those guys who makes all the hard catches.

“You’ve got to have a guy like that on second down. You know that if you go to him, he’s going to go down and get the football or go up and get the football and sacrifice his body. He’s that type of guy. He’s a quality team guy.”

Roosevelt made that clear after getting the game ball. Asked later about the honour, he turned it into a tribute to his team and his teammates.

“(Receiving the game ball) was good,” he said. “I just wanted to play hard for my team and get this win.

“Going into the bye week, we wanted to have our energy high and get the ball rolling. I think, with this win, we definitely did a good job.”

He then credited Glenn, McAdoo, the other receivers, the running backs, the offensive line and the defence for being focused in the days leading up to the game and in the contest itself. The victory gave Saskatchewan a 1-2-0 record going into its first bye of the season.

“When we put it together, we’re a scary team, I feel like,” Roosevelt said. “It’s only one win, so we’ve just got to keep building.”