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April 26, 2018

Eric Striker is taking another shot at football

Eric Striker watches football players for a living.

He has decided he once again wants to be one himself.

The 23-year-old product of Tampa, Fla., put his job as the University of Oklahoma Sooners’ defensive recruiting analyst on hold to attend the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ mini-camp in Bradenton, Fla.

COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA

“I know that I’m still in the game with my job, but it’s different than participating,” the 5-foot-11, 230-pound linebacker said after the CFL’s Roughriders wrapped up mini-camp at IMG Academy. “I love everything about the game.

“Out here (on the field), this is like my realm. It’s where I’m the most comfortable. I can talk trash. I can play high-level ball and have fun and get better at the same time. The gig I have is great, but if I could do this, I would. It’s a great opportunity for me to get back in the game.”

Striker played for the Sooners for four seasons. In his three seasons as a starter, he recorded 118 solo tackles, 73 assists, 45 tackles for losses, 22.5 sacks, four fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and one interception.

He was named first-team All-Big 12 and a third-team Associated Press All-American as a junior. As a senior, he again was selected first-team All-Big 12 and was a second-team AP All-American.

COURTESY Buffalobills.com

Striker wasn’t selected in the 2016 NFL draft, but he subsequently signed a free-agent contract with the Buffalo Bills. He was released by Buffalo at the end of the pre-season and wasn’t added by another team.

The lack of offers prompted Striker to ponder a different path. Having already earned a bachelor’s degree in political science, he decided to pursue his master’s in adult higher education.

He successfully navigated his first semester in the master’s program, but in January of 2017 he was hired by the university as a graduate assistant in Student Life.

That job lasted just over three months, though. In April of ’17, then-Sooners head coach Bob Stoops hired Striker to be the team’s defensive recruiting analyst.

“We’re going to start grooming Eric and (are) excited to have him,” Sooners defensive co-ordinator Mike Stoops told The Oklahoma Daily. “Not only was he a great player, he was a great leader and a great guy to have around … I think he could be a very successful coach.”

Striker watches film of high school players during the recruiting process and makes recommendations to the Sooners’ coaches. He also keeps tabs on potential defensive recruits via text and social media.

COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA

Bob Stoops retired in June of 2017 and was replaced by Lincoln Riley, but Striker retained his job. Even so, that didn’t stop him from looking for another opportunity.

Striker knows he isn’t guaranteed a spot with the Roughriders, but he wanted to take a shot all the same.

“For a lot of us (at the camp), this is what we’ve been doing our whole life,” he said. “Once we graduate, everybody — not just football players — deals with that (feeling of) ‘What am I going to do now?’ It’s not like you immediately do what you want to do. In my case, I wanted to play football, but things changed and I fell short.

“During my year off, I had a lot of conversations in my head about what’s real life and I realized that football is what I’ve been doing my whole life. I thought, ‘You really love the game, you gave your all to the game and in a lot of ways you miss it. You want to get back out there and do it.’ ”

Striker isn’t sure if he’ll have to quit his job with the Sooners or take a leave of absence if he cracks the Roughriders’ roster. As he noted, “there are still some conversations that need to be had” on that front.

He also needs to get more acclimated to the CFL. During Wednesday’s workout, he exhorted his defensive mates to get a three-and-out — and then sheepishly grinned when reminded that CFL defences need only get a two-and-out to force a punt.

“Can you see I need to get educated a little more?” he said later. “Think about it: If I keep the three in my head, I’m thinking, ‘Oh, we’ve got a bonus (by forcing a two-and-out).’ ”

Other than that gaffe, Striker thought mini-camp went well. He certainly was noticeable with his high-volume style, but he’ll need to do more than trash talk to land a job.

“For most guys out here, we love the game and it’s what we’ve been doing for a long time, so taking time off and getting back into it is probably one of the most exciting things of our lives,” Striker said. “I came out with a lot of energy and came to have fun but to play ball like I always did and compete at the highest level that I could while I was out here.”

Fortunately for Striker, he survived a round of cuts the Roughriders made Thursday. Saskatchewan released receivers Donta Armstrong, Da’Rick Rogers, Jeremy Tabuyo and Tyrian Taylor and defensive backs William Johnson Jr., Drew Powell and DeAndre Smith — all of whom had participated in mini-camp.

All CFL teams must trim their rosters to 75 players (not including non-counters) by Tuesday.