January 11, 2018

Bakari Grant contributed in a lot of ways in 2017

The Saskatchewan Roughriders take on the Ottawa RedBlacks in CFL action on October 13th, 2017 at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, SK. Derek Mortensen/Electric Umbrella

Bakari Grant has high hopes for the upcoming CFL season.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders receiver helped raise around $6,000 for Hope’s Home during the 2017 campaign and he’s looking to have a larger impact on the Regina-based organization in 2018.

“I feel like (last season’s dollar total) was a good starting point,” Grant says from his off-season home near Oakland. “For me coming in unorganized (because it was his first season in Saskatchewan), I thought it worked out extremely well compared to what I conceptualized coming in.

“I plan on doing the same thing next year, probably on a little bit larger scale,” he adds. “Hopefully people know a little bit more about it and I can get other people involved in donating, whether it be with touchdowns or catches or yards or what have you.”

Through the Touchdowns4Hope program, Grant donated a portion of his game cheques to Hope’s Home for each touchdown he scored for the Roughriders. He got sponsors to match his donations and also raised money at charity events during the year.

Hope’s Home provides care for children with complex medical needs and offers support for their families as well. Grant picked the organization himself after his six-year-old daughter, Khari, dealt with some issues with her autoimmune system during the off-season.

“When some things that aren’t football-related come up in your life and you have to deal with them while also preparing to play a football season, it makes you reflect on life in general,” says Grant, whose daughter is back to full health. “You reflect on the platform that we have and the things that we can do for kids and for the community around us that helps us in our careers.

“I came into Regina knowing I wanted to get heavily involved with a community organization that I chose, so I sought out Hope’s Home. I really liked their story and what they did for kids and families with children who have severe disabilities. I felt we were a good match for each other.”

Grant proved to be a good match for the Roughriders in 2017.

After spending five seasons with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and one with the Calgary Stampeders, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound product of the University of California-Davis signed a free-agent contract with Saskatchewan in February.

Grant went on to start all 18 regular-season games, marking just the second time in his seven-year CFL career that he had played all of his team’s games.

He led the Roughriders in receptions (84), was third on the team in receiving yards (1,033) and tied for third among Saskatchewan receivers in touchdown catches (five). He added four catches for 95 yards and a TD over the Roughriders’ two playoff games.

He also threw himself into his role as a blocker and joined other veterans as leaders within the Roughriders’ receiving corps.

“It was probably one of my most fun years of football as far as the game itself and the locker room,” says Grant, who during the regular season set career highs in catches and receiving yards and tied his previous high in TD receptions. “That’s not to say that I haven’t been around great teams or great guys before, but being healthy and having some of our other playmakers around me was great.

“When you have such a high level of player at the receiver position, sometimes it’s fun to sit back and watch guys make one-handed grabs and diving catches and have that encourage and motivate me to make the same plays. My first year was awesome and I look forward to building on it.”

Grant has a year’s experience playing with the returning quarterbacks who were on the Roughriders’ roster last season, so that should help his cause. He also played two seasons in Hamilton with newly acquired pivot Zach Collaros, which could be beneficial for Grant.

As well, the veteran receiver is coming off a season in which he didn’t suffer a significant injury, so he hasn’t had to spend part of the off-season rehabilitating. He also won’t have to learn a new playbook because co-ordinator Stephen McAdoo remains at the helm of the Roughriders’ offence.

It all has Grant hoping his second year in Saskatchewan will surpass his first.

“Like any player who has been in a new offensive system, that first training camp, you think you know the offence and then halfway through the season, you’re like, ‘Oh, now I understand what that means,’ ” Grant says. “Then, after the first year, you’re like, ‘OK, I have a pretty good grasp. Now I can start adding some things or suggesting some things where before I didn’t completely grasp the overall concepts.’

“I’m a big concepts guy. I like to understand things down to the core, so coming back this year and having that base of knowledge and having a pretty good grasp on the offence will allow me to give input. I think you’ll see my experience kick in a little bit more this coming year.”

If so, that could bode well for the Roughriders as they try to build on a 10-8-0 season. Additionally, it could benefit Grant’s charity of choice.

“I don’t use things like that to motivate me,” he says. “I just try to do my job and do it to the best of my ability.

“With my position, touchdowns are a product. If they weren’t, maybe it would be yards or big blocks or something. I just try to use that as a secondary component to help give back.”