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March 6, 2018

High school foes are teaming up in Saskatchewan

Courtesy St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute: St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute cornerback Naaman Roosevelt returns an intercepted pass 81 yards for a touchdown against Aquinas Institute on Sept. 17, 2005.

Naaman Roosevelt has never played with Zach Collaros, but yet the Saskatchewan Roughriders receiver goes back a long way with his new quarterback.

When Roosevelt was attending St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute — a private school in his hometown of Buffalo — the Marauders routinely travelled out of state to play football games against high-quality opponents. One of their regular foes was the Big Red of Steubenville High School, an Ohio powerhouse.

When Roosevelt and the Marauders faced Steubenville in 2004 and ’05, one of the Big Red’s quarterbacks was Zach Collaros.

“He was really good,” Roosevelt recalled recently. “He could run, he could throw — he could do it all. It was exciting to see.

“I played quarterback too, so we used to battle over who was the best coming out of that game. It was fun.”

In 2004, the Big Red beat St. Joe’s 15-7. In 2005 — during a season in which Roosevelt threw 35 touchdown passes — Steubenville downed the Marauders 35-28.

“My last year, they beat us by scoring a touchdown on the last drive,” Roosevelt said. “It was always close, but they were always great games — and he always played well.”

Roosevelt also played defensive back for St. Joe’s, but he noted with a chuckle that he didn’t get a chance to intercept Collaros in those games.

“I wish I would have,” Roosevelt said. “I didn’t really get too many passes my way.”

Roosevelt went from St. Joe’s to the University of Buffalo in 2006 before making stops in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions. He signed with Saskatchewan in March of 2015.

Collaros graduated from Steubenville High in 2007 and went to the University of Cincinnati. He broke into the CFL with the Toronto Argonauts in 2012 before signing with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2014.

On Jan. 3 of this year, the Roughriders acquired the 29-year-old quarterback from Hamilton.

“Some guy hit me up on Twitter and asked, ‘How will it feel to play with Zach now after you guys played against each other in high school?’ ” said Roosevelt, 30. “It’s actually pretty crazy.

“Zach even hit me up as soon as he got picked up (from Hamilton). He DM’ed me on Twitter and talked about getting together so we can have some fun talking about the old times. We’re definitely going to get together this off-season and get some workouts going, too.”

Those workouts will help Roosevelt get to know everything about Collaros before training camp arrives. Roosevelt also did some research by talking to Roughriders receiver Bakari Grant, who played with Collaros in Hamilton during the 2014 and ’15 seasons.

“Bakari loves him,” Roosevelt said. “He said (Collaros) was a good leader and a great quarterback. I’m definitely excited for all of us to get together.”

Roosevelt is accustomed to adjusting to new quarterbacks in Saskatchewan.

In 2015, the Roughriders deployed five QBs (Darian Durant, Kevin Glenn, Keith Price, Brett Smith and Tino Sunseri) before using five again in 2016 (Durant, Brandon Bridge, Mitchell Gale, G.J. Kinne and Jake Waters). Last season, three pivots — Glenn, Bridge and Vernon Adams Jr. — threw passes for Saskatchewan.

Currently, the Roughriders have four quarterbacks on the roster in Bridge, Collaros, Marquise Williams and David Watford.

Last season, Roosevelt had 75 receptions for 1,035 yards and eight touchdowns in the regular season, but he caught only 13 passes from Bridge for 177 yards and three touchdowns. No matter who is under centre, then, Roosevelt will have to adjust to a different starter.

“The biggest thing (about adapting to a quarterback) is knowing what they like and where they want you to be on the field,” Roosevelt said. “All quarterbacks are different. Sometimes they want you to stop in a zone and sometimes they want you to keep running. I want to work with (Collaros) this off-season to know what he wants and what he likes.

“For us right now, it’s about getting that communication going.”

Roosevelt has spent much of the off-season preparing for the 2018 campaign, but he also has gone on vacations to Thailand and Jamaica. All the while, he has stayed up to date on the Roughriders’ moves.

“It has been crazy to see,” Roosevelt said. “That trade (Feb. 2) was insane, with Charleston (Hughes, a defensive end) coming here (from Hamilton). You didn’t even think about him coming here, so to get a great player like that is exciting.

“Willie (Jefferson) signing was definitely a plus for us; he’s one of the best D-ends in the league right now. And to get Duron (Carter) back was exciting, too.”

But perhaps the biggest addition for a receiver like Roosevelt is a man who potentially could be throwing him passes. And Roosevelt knows from his high school days how effective Collaros can be.

“It’s going to be exciting,” Roosevelt said. “He’s excited to get back to his old form. He’s going to throw the ball all over the field and I’m excited as a receiver to see that.”