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December 6, 2017

Ed Gainey’s dream season continues

Ed Gainey has been at home in North Carolina since Nov. 24.

He’s already counting the days until he can return to Saskatchewan.

“Everybody who plays, their first question is always, ‘Is it June yet?’ ” the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ defensive back said with a chuckle Wednesday from Winston-Salem, N.C. “I’m here with my family and that’s good, but I’m ready to get back to work.

“I’m ready to get back and try to improve on this season and hopefully get my family up there with me when I come back. That will actually help me with my game next year.”

Gainey’s 2017 season will be tough to top. The 27-year-old led the CFL with 10 interceptions in the regular season — twice as many as he’d had in his first five CFL seasons combined. He set a franchise single-game record with four picks against the B.C. Lions on Aug. 13.

Gainey was named Saskatchewan’s most outstanding defensive player and, on Tuesday, was named a CFL all-star for the first time in his career.

Gainey gets much of his CFL news via social media, so he annually has seen the lists of division and league all-stars when they were released. His name has never appeared on any of those releases — until this season.

“I knew it wasn’t my time (in the past) and it definitely motivated me,” Gainey said. “I would look at guys like (slotback) S.J. Green and other guys who I used to play with and I would try to put it in my head that, ‘One day, that will be me. I’m the type of player to be selected for that status.’ It was definitely motivation.

“Like I always say, I want to make a name for myself in the CFL and become a household name, so this is a good start.”

Gainey and four other Roughriders — receivers Duron Carter and Naaman Roosevelt, defensive end Willie Jefferson and offensive lineman Brendon LaBatte — were named West Division all-stars on Nov. 18. On Tuesday, Gainey, Carter, Jefferson and LaBatte earned spots on the league’s all-star team.

As Gainey’s second season in Saskatchewan approached, head coach-GM Chris Jones told the veteran DB that he had to be more aggressive.

But Gainey didn’t have an interception through Saskatchewan’s first six games, so Jones sat down with Gainey in the days leading up to a contest Aug. 13 against the visiting Lions.

“He and I spoke this week and I told him, ‘You’re a good player. You’re just not quite playing like a good player,’ ” Jones said after Gainey picked off four passes versus B.C. “(In that game), I saw that same confidence that I’ve seen from him in the past that, ‘I’m on top of this route. I’m going to be aggressive. I’m not just going to let (the receiver) catch it. I’m going to go get the football.’ ’’

Gainey added six more interceptions in the regular season to lead the league with 10. He added 48 defensive tackles, two fumble recoveries and one special-teams tackle over 18 regular-season games.

“It was all about Coach Jones believing in me and keeping me out there,” said Gainey, who tied Dale West and Ken McEachern for second on the Roughriders’ all-time list of interceptions in a season — one off Terry Irvin’s team record. “It was like he gave me the keys and told me that I’m a leader.

“Being a leader for me is not necessarily being a vocal leader. I don’t think I’m good at all at being a vocal leader; I’m more of a guy who leads by example. Talking to Coach Jones and playing for Coach Jones and for my teammates, that helped me get over the hump.”

Now Gainey faces the tough task of matching or exceeding the season he just had.

For starters, he wants to improve on his tackling and on his recognition of plays before they happen. But he also wants to do “a lot better” when it comes to turnovers — because, in his mind, 10 picks and two fumble recoveries weren’t enough.

“There’s a lot more out there and I’m willing to make sacrifices to go and get it,” Gainey said. “Everybody has their different paths to success. I think my path has been a long one and, at the end of the day, it’s the one that I’m going to continue to stay on.

“I’m going to keep grinding, keep working out with my boy Emanuel Davis (of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats) this summer and continue to have that killer instinct in whatever I do, whether it’s working out, being on the field or getting in that extra filmwork.

“I’m going to continue to push myself and make myself better in every way possible. I’ve got to raise the bar higher this year.”

As eager as Gainey is to get back to work, he also wants to enjoy some time off.

He’s reconnecting with his 14-month-old son Grayson (“Every time I turn around, he’s messing with something or into something,” Gainey reported) as well as with friends and family members.

“When you come home, everyone wants their time with you,” Gainey said. “Everybody’s trying to meet up and hang out. I’ve got my rounds to do.”