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September 14, 2017

Notebook: Otha Foster III is happy to be back

Otha Foster III had to answer the question.

Foster, who spent the 2016 season playing linebacker for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, could have returned to the CFL team for the 2017 campaign. But the 28-year-old product of Angie, La., decided to sign as a free agent in January with the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens and discover if he had what it took to play in that league.

The Ravens cut Foster at the NFL’s roster deadline and he returned to the Roughriders on Tuesday.

“As a kid — like at the young age of five — you don’t know too much about the CFL, so you grow up with dreams of being in the NFL …,” Foster said Wednesday at Mosaic Stadium. “I didn’t want to live the rest of my life saying, ‘What if …?’ I went down there, took my shot, it didn’t work so I’m back here — I guess where I belong, right?”

Foster played one season with the Roughriders and was named the team’s nominee for the CFL award as the league’s most outstanding defensive player. He spent the previous two seasons with the Edmonton Eskimos, whose head coach at the time was Chris Jones.

With Jones now running the show in Saskatchewan, it was a good bet that Foster would rejoin the Roughriders after he was cut by the Ravens.

“I did have a few options, but I feel like this was the best choice for me, being familiar with Coach Jones,” Foster said. “I’ve been playing with him since he became a head coach in Edmonton, so it really made the decision easy.”

So did a familiarity with the system.

Foster worked out with Saskatchewan during Tuesday’s closed practice and was part of the starting defence on Wednesday. He’s expected to start at outside linebacker Friday when the Roughriders face the host Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

“I really knew everything before even looking at the playbook,” Foster said. “They did have a few changes left and right, but it was nothing I couldn’t adjust to.”

Foster said he had a couple of calls from NFL teams after he was released by Baltimore, but he didn’t want to wait for another opportunity in that league. As a result, he signed with Saskatchewan.

“I think (the idea of playing in the NFL) may be over for me because I’m getting up there in age, but I’m OK with it,” he said. “It’s nothing that I’m down about or anything like that. It’s life. Life continues to go on.”

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Jones confirmed that Foster and Jeff Knox Jr. — who signed Monday after being cut by the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers — will play Friday. So will kick returner Marcus Thigpen, who signed Tuesday.

Thigpen, 31, began his CFL career with the Roughriders in 2009, but he didn’t play a game for them. He was released after training camp in 2010 and signed with the Tiger-Cats, with whom he spent two seasons.

He parlayed his showing in Hamilton into a four-year career in the NFL. Now he’s back in Saskatchewan — thanks in large part to quarterback Kevin Glenn. The men are both from Detroit and were teammates with the Tiger-Cats.

“There was kind of a conversation that we were having,” Glenn said. “One thing led to another. I knew our situation here, I knew he wanted to try to continue playing and I was — what do you call that person? — the matchmaker.”

•••

Denzel Radford may be a CFL rookie, but he’s the leader of the pack.

The 23-year-old product of Calgary is leading the Roughriders this season with 12 special-teams tackles, which puts the receiver/defensive back seventh in the league in that category.

Radford, who attended the University of Calgary, was selected by the Montreal Alouettes in the sixth round (48th overall) of the 2017 CFL draft. On June 7, Saskatchewan acquired Radford from the Als for offensive lineman Matt Vonk.

“I knew coming in that, to get on the field, I’d have to be a special-teams guy who was working his way either on offence or defence,” Radford said. “I’m just happy at this point that I can contribute.

“Whether I’m leading the team or I’m last in special-teams tackles, the important thing is I’m doing my job and helping this team every time we go out on the field.”

Radford leads Cameron Ontko and Spencer Moore by two special-teams tackles for the team lead, with Jeff Hecht and Glenn Love three back. But Love has missed Saskatchewan’s past five games due to injury and is expected to return for the team’s game Sept. 24 against the Calgary Stampeders.

“I’ve been joking with Love about how I’m trying to get a few up on him before he gets back so I can have a little bit of a lead when he comes back and starts getting two or three every game,” Radford said with a chuckle. “It’ll definitely be a little bit of battle there to get the tackles.

“But as long as somebody is getting down there and we’re covering the guys, that’s the main thing.”

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EXTRAS: Running back/linebacker/special-teamer Aaron Milton has been placed on the Roughriders’ suspended list after leaving the team Wednesday. Milton signed as a free agent with Saskatchewan in the off-season, but retired on the eve of training camp for personal reasons. The 25-year-old product of Toronto reported to the team on Aug. 1 and appeared in the past three games, recording two defensive tackles and two special-teams stops … The CFL and the CFL Players’ Association announced Wednesday that the league is eliminating full-contact, padded practices starting in 2018. The league also will have a revamped schedule in 2018, with each team having three bye weeks instead of the current two. The regular season will cover 21 weeks instead of the current 20, but each team will still play 18 games.