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November 28, 2018

Two of the Roughriders’ tailbacks go way back

The first time Cameron Marshall and Marcus Thigpen were teammates was 2013, when they were members of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.

Regina in November is not Miami at any time of the year.

“The weather was nowhere near this,” Thigpen said with a grin after the Roughriders’ closed practice Thursday at Mosaic Stadium. “It was hot and humid and we could barely feel our feet because they were on fire. Now it’s the complete opposite.”

One thing is the same: Marshall and Thigpen are teammates. On Sunday, they’re to comprise the Roughriders’ backfield during the CFL’s Western Semi-Final against the visiting Winnipeg Blue Bombers (3:30 p.m., CKRM, TSN).

For much of the 2018 regular season, Thigpen and Tre Mason were Saskatchewan’s tailbacks, but Marshall replaced Thigpen in the rotation for the final two games of the regular season.

However, a change is required for Sunday’s game. Mason suffered a leg injury in the Roughriders’ final regular-season outing — a 35-16 victory over the B.C. Lions on Oct. 27 — so Thigpen is in.

“We’ve been looking forward to this opportunity all year because, outside of football, we’re really good friends,” Thigpen said of himself and Marshall. “We hang out a lot and we always talk about this. Now it’s here.”

Marshall and Thigpen often spend time together away from the football field. The basis of that friendship was created in Florida five years ago, when Thigpen was entering his second NFL season and Marshall was trying to make the Dolphins as a rookie.

“Our relationship never really went away after our Miami days,” Thigpen said. “We kept in touch here and there, but now that we’re on the same team, it has grown even more.”

“I look at him really as a big-brother type of guy,” said Marshall who, at 27, is five years younger than Thigpen. “We hang out a lot off the field and he challenges me in more ways than just the on-the-field stuff.

“I’m always trying to live up to the type of person he is. He encourages me in my relationship with God, in my marriage and as a friend. He’s just an all-around good guy.”

“I’m just preparing the best I can. I know my opportunity is here now, so I’m excited to get back on the field and do what I can.”

Marshall was the Roughriders’ No. 1 tailback last season until suffering a knee injury in the Labour Day Classic. He returned for one game late in the regular season, but didn’t play in the playoffs.

He’ll remedy that on Sunday.

“Missing out last season wasn’t fun, so I’ve got that in the back of my mind,” Marshall admitted. “Right now, though, I’m just trying to focus on this game and on doing everything I need to do to be prepared.”

Ironically, Thigpen thrived in Marshall’s absence during the 2017 post-season.

Thigpen was signed midway through the 2017 regular season but, in his first game, suffered a shoulder injury that put him on the shelf for six games.

When he returned for the regular-season finale, he was Saskatchewan’s only healthy international tailback — Marshall and Trent Richardson both were hurt — so Thigpen got the job.

After playing well against the Edmonton Eskimos in that contest, Thigpen went off in the Eastern Semi-Final against the Ottawa Redblacks. He rushed 15 times for 169 yards and a 75-yard touchdown in Saskatchewan’s 31-20 victory.

He added seven carries for 34 yards and two receptions for 16 yards in a 25-21 loss to the Toronto Argonauts in the Eastern Final.

“I look back at (last season’s playoff performance) and I take a lot of positives from it, but I know this is a new year and things are different,” Thigpen said. “This is a different team and a different opponent.

“I’m just preparing the best I can. I know my opportunity is here now, so I’m excited to get back on the field and do what I can.”

After missing Saskatchewan’s first two games this season due to a league-imposed suspension, Thigpen appeared in 13 of the team’s next 14 contests. He was scratched for Saskatchewan’s game Oct. 20 against the host Calgary Stampeders and was on the one-game injured list for the regular-season finale against the Lions.

“It was tough, stepping more into a mentor/coach role for Cam and Mason,” Thigpen said. “You don’t feel like you’re part of the team when you’re not playing. Well, you’re a part of it, but you feel like you’re missing that factor of going to war with your boys. Being back now, I’m excited.”

As for Marshall, his 2018 season started in unexpected fashion: He was released on the eve of training camp after failing his physical.

Instead of getting to attend camp and compete for the job he held to start the 2017 season, he had to re-evaluate things.

“It was really humbling to get that call and get released,” Marshall said. “I was like, ‘All right.’ But it allowed me to refocus, go home and make sure everything was in tip-top shape. The knee was feeling good and the rest of my body was feeling good. I took it as an opportunity and a challenge to stay in it.”

The Roughriders added him to their practice roster in mid-September and, after he appeared in one game, he spent the next seven contests on the injured list. He dressed for Saskatchewan’s final two regular-season games — and put up 210 yards on 30 carries.

On Sunday, for the first time in their Roughriders careers, Marshall and Thigpen will team up as Saskatchewan’s tailback tandem.

“I’m known as a bigger, physical guy and he’s known as a faster, quicker guy, so you get the Thunder-and-Lightning comments,” Marshall said. “I’m sure we’ll bring something good and new to the table.”