September 12, 2018

Sam Eguavoen is becoming a household name

Saskatchewan Roughriders linebacker Sam Eguavoen is literally making a name for himself in 2018.

The third-year CFLer is stuffing the stats sheet, with 48 defensive tackles, seven special-teams stops, seven tackles for losses, three sacks, two forced fumbles, an interception (which he returned 103 yards for a touchdown), a knockdown and a blocked punt (which he returned 30 yards for another major).

So what does that kind of showing mean to him?

“It’s great; people know my name now,” Eguavoen said with a smile. “Some people are pronouncing my last name right, so that’s always important.”

He has heard a number of pronunciations over the years — “Egg-wah-vo-in, Eeee-gua-von, Egg-wah-veen; a whole bunch of stuff,” he said — but things are improving on that front, now that he’s putting together a stellar season.

“It’s huge,” said the 25-year-old from Garland, Texas. “Sometimes it’s kind of unbelievable, like, ‘Man, I’m really doing this right.’ Then I try to erase it out of my head and focus. I’ve got another game to play and I’ve got to continue to play well.”

“I just wanted to right all my wrongs from last year…”

Roughriders head coach-GM Chris Jones worked out Eguavoen in Dallas prior to the 2016 CFL season and determined the youngster had the physical attributes needed to play linebacker in the league.

Three seasons later, Eguavoen is living up to those expectations.

“Sammy has learned the game and is playing extremely fast and confident,” Jones said. “He’s a tremendous athlete.”

Eguavoen was off to a brilliant start in his rookie season of 2016, recording 21 tackles and two special-teams stops in six games. Then a knee injury ended his season after just a third of the regular season.

The 6-foot-0, 227-pound product of Texas Tech University had a solid season in 2017 with 57 tackles, two special-teams takedowns and a sack, but he again couldn’t stay healthy. He missed four regular-season games, including three due to concussions.

He came into 2018 with one specific goal.

“I just wanted to right all my wrongs from last year,” said Eguavoen, whose team is to play host to the Ottawa Redblacks on Saturday.

“I had a lot of coverage busts last year, a lot of missed tackles. A lot of times when I had plays right in my hands, I was hesitant to make them. I don’t know if I was scared of the spotlight, but I’ll take all the spotlight now. When the play comes, I’m trying to make it …

“We’ve got a good unit. I knew that if I played my part, our chances of winning a lot of games and getting to the Grey Cup would increase — just like if (Ed) Gainey does his part or Willie (Jefferson) does his part. I just wanted to do my part to the best of my ability.”

Eguavoen enters this week ranked eighth in the CFL with 70 defensive plays, a combination of tackles, special-teams tackles, sacks, forced fumbles, interceptions, knockdowns, fumble recoveries and tackles for losses.

In Saturday’s 32-27 victory over the host Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Eguavoen had three tackles, two tackles for losses, a sack, the aforementioned interception (his return is the third-longest in franchise history), a knockdown — and a teeth-rattling hit on Bombers receiver Daniel Petermann.

And yet Eguavoen doesn’t think he’s hitting his peak.

“I think I’m still rising,” he said. “I watch myself on film all the time and I’m like, ‘Dang, I should have done this. I should have done that.’ Every game, I’m trying to right my wrongs from the previous game.

“Being healthy this long is a blessing to me, too. Usually I’m on the six-game (injured list) or I’m out with a concussion or something by now. (The showing this season) is just a matter of being healthy and having confidence. I knew my time was coming, but it dialled up at the perfect time.”

It’s the perfect time for Eguavoen because he’s in his contract year. He wants to put out some good video to impress teams on both sides of the border, just in case.

In Eguavoen’s mind, the turning point occurred during the Roughriders’ playoff run in 2017.

After missing one game late in the season with a concussion, he returned for one game but suffered another concussion that sidelined him for Saskatchewan’s final two regular-season games.

He was back in the starting lineup for the Eastern Semi-Final, in which Saskatchewan faced Ottawa.

“I was thinking in the locker room, ‘What can I do to get better?’ ” Eguavoen recalled. “I watched a lot of film and I changed up my swag on the field a little bit. You look good, you feel good, you play good, right?

“I came back with a good mindset for the Ottawa game and then took that into the Toronto game (in the East Final) and then into the new season. I’m trying to play better, be better, look better and be faster.”

Eguavoen changed his helmet, shoulder pads and cleats and added arm sleeves — anything he could think of to alter his look. All of the changes, he said, “made me feel better on the field.”

He didn’t change one aspect of his game, though.

Never one to gab a lot (“You’ve really got to piss me off for me to say something to you,” he said), he remains quiet by some standards. He literally lets his play do his talking.

“I was always a guy who would lead by example,” Eguavoen said. “I’m not going to come in on the first day of training camp and try to check everybody: ‘Oh, do this or do that.’ I’m going to let them see me on film and be like, ‘OK, I’m going to try to do what he’s doing.’

“Rather than talking and have you assume, ‘Oh, he must be a good player,’ I’m going to show you I’m a good player before I say anything to you.”