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September 12, 2018

Notebook: Eddie Steele will be cheering for the Broncos

Like many Canadians, Eddie Steele will be glued to his TV on Wednesday evening.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders’ defensive tackle has a prior commitment at his church, but his PVR will be whirring away in his absence, recording the nationally televised season opener of the SJHL’s Humboldt Broncos. Steele plans to watch the game when he gets home.

The contest against the visiting Nipawin Hawks will be the first regular-season game for the Broncos since their team bus was involved in an accident on April 6. The crash with a semi-trailer unit at a rural intersection claimed the lives of 16 people on board the bus and injured the other 13.

“It’s going to be a pretty special night,” Steele said Wednesday after the CFL’s Roughriders practised at Mosaic Stadium. “Kudos to TSN for what they’re doing, for stepping up and broadcasting it.

“I’m pretty proud of the community. It’s pretty fantastic, the fact that they’ve been able to go through the healing process. The fact that (the Broncos) are up and running again so soon is pretty amazing. It’s just a testament to the organization and a testament to the community.”

In the wake of the accident, the Roughriders threw their support behind Humboldt, the Broncos, first responders and medical personnel, and the families of those affected by the crash.

The Roughriders affixed “Humboldt Strong” bumpers to the backs of their helmets, staged a training-camp workout/barbecue in Humboldt, helped manufacture and market apparel that supported the team and community, and held a “Humboldt Strong” night when the Montreal Alouettes visited Mosaic Stadium on June 30.

Steele, who carried a “Humboldt Strong” flag onto the field for that game, has a personal connection to the city and the team.

On Feb. 16, he met with the Broncos’ coaches and a few players after Humboldt’s 4-3 loss to the host Hawks. Two weeks later, Steele did a speaking engagement at Humboldt’s high school.

He thought about attending Wednesday’s game, but his previous commitment kept him in Regina. Despite that, he planned to watch as the rebuilt Broncos opened the 2018-19 regular season.

That game will aid in the healing process that has been in progress since the night of the accident. Members of the community and of the Broncos organization stand to benefit greatly from the team’s return to the ice.

“It’s going to help tremendously,” Steele said. “There has been such a focus on the tragedy, as there should be, but the fact that these kids get the opportunity to get out there and to play the game is going to bring a lot of healing to them and to the community.

“When I went up there, I saw how much the community really rallied around the Broncos before the tragedy. Since (the accident), it has been that much stronger. I think it’s going to be a huge moment and a special night for the community.”

•••

Mic’hael Brooks’ thoughts were on some other communities Wednesday.

The Roughriders’ defensive tackle hails from Durham, N.C., which is preparing for the arrival of Hurricane Florence. The massive storm is slated to make landfall sometime Thursday or Friday.

“Hopefully it doesn’t hit too bad there, but you never know; they’re going to get a little bit,” said Brooks, whose parents and two sisters live just outside Durham. “It’s a tough situation. But it’s not the first hurricane that we’ve been through, so everybody’s doing pretty well.”

Durham isn’t on the coast, so it’s not likely to bear the brunt of the storm. In Brooks’ experience, hurricanes have diminished in strength once they move inland — and that has helped spare his hometown.

Brooks’ family has taken the usual precautions to prepare for Florence’s arrival, loading up on fresh drinking water and wood to protect their windows. The family’s plan is to ride out Florence instead of leaving town.

“There isn’t really a place to run from it on the coast side, so they boarded up and got their supplies,” Brooks said. “Now they’re just waiting for it.”

•••

The Roughriders added a pair of international players to the practice roster Wednesday.

Linebacker Paul Dawson is a 25-year-old product of Dallas who was selected by the Cincinnati Bengals in the third round of the 2015 NFL draft. He also had a stint in that league with the Seattle Seahawks.

The 6-foot-1, 240-pounder played three seasons at Texas Christian University, where he recorded 241 tackles, 31 tackles for losses, 6.5 sacks, five interceptions, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in 38 games.

In 2014, Dawson was named the Big 12 defensive player of the year, a first-team conference all-star and a first-team All-American.

Wide receiver Derek Keaton, 24, hails from Camden, Ark. The 5-foot-10, 190-pounder spent one season at Arkansas State University, one at Coffeyville Community College and two at Georgia Southern University before a brief stop with the NFL’s Chicago Bears.

In two seasons at Georgia Southern, Keaton had 52 kickoff returns for 1,379 yards, 20 punt returns for 281 yards, 11 catches for 91 yards and a touchdown, and one carry for 15 yards.

•••

The CFL announced Wednesday that New Era will be its new supplier of clothing and uniforms starting in 2019.

New Era, which has provided headwear and other apparel for the CFL for the past seven years, replaces adidas as the league’s official outfitter.

“This is the first time New Era Cap will charge onto the football field providing uniforms and sideline apparel in addition to our line of fan gear and headwear that blends sports with lifestyle,” Dave Heimburg, New Era’s vice-president and general manager North America, said in a media release.

“We’re very happy to be taking this bold step to help the CFL put a unique stamp on their apparel and uniforms that excites their growing fanbase.”