Despite playing in only one game during the 2023 regular season, Brayden Lenius has continued to be a valuable and conspicuous member of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
His dedicated efforts on behalf of the team and the community were recognized on Thursday in Hamilton when he received the Jake Gaudaur Veterans’ Award — punctuating a momentous day on which it was also announced that the 26-year-old receiver had signed a one-year contract extension.
The award was created in 2010 in honour of former CFL Commissioner Jake Gaudaur, a distinguished Second World War veteran.
Each year at the CFL Awards, a presentation is made to a national player who embodies the attributes that were possessed by Gaudaur and are associated with Canada’s veterans — strength, perseverance, courage, comradeship and contributions to Canadian communities.
Lenius’s perseverance came to the fore in 2023 when he recovered from a lacerated kidney he had suffered in the Roughriders’ pre-season finale, only to sustain a foot injury in the fourth quarter of his first game back in the lineup.
“This year was a complete wash,” the Regina-born Lenius said. “I don’t know where my bad karma or bad luck came from, but it’s part of the game and part of life.
“You find the goodness out of the dark moments and this (award) is that light at the end of the tunnel, glowing into next year and giving me that good energy.
“It’s huge. It really shifts my aura, my energy and my mindset going into next year and pushes me that much more.
“It just shows how much I mean to the people around me in the community and to the team as well, so it’s really amazing.”
The importance of Lenius to everyone around him is underlined by an effusive testimonial from a Roughriders receiving colleague.
“Brayden is someone who exemplifies tremendous leadership skills through his humility, his integrity and just the way that he empowers all those around him,” Kian Schaffer-Baker said.
“He has been a close and dear friend to me ever since I met him three years ago. Since my first day coming here, he has been welcoming and has always done so much to make me feel a part of the team and like a brother, not just in football but outside of the game.
“There have been times in life when I’ve been down and he has picked me up every step of the way, so I’m forever grateful for the friendship and love that I share with him.
“Just watching all the work that he does in the community and the outreach he has with people, it’s amazing. He continues to shine his light, no matter what’s going on in life.
“Whether he’s having the greatest day of his life or there’s adversity that has hit him, he continues to stand 10 toes down and does everything for others because he wants to see them be happy at the end of it.”
There is virtually no end to a scroll-like list of Lenius’s good deeds.
As a player ambassador for the Saskatchewan Roughrider Foundation, he has travelled all over the province to speak in classrooms about healthy coping mechanisms, relationships and mental health.
During the 2023 calendar year, he has made more than 50 presentations while interacting with, inspiring and encouraging roughly 3,500 young people as part of the Roughrider Foundation’s Win with Wellness program.
He has journeyed as far north as Sandy Bay — a 9½-hour drive from Regina — to spread his message and good cheer.
As well, Lenius attended various football camps as part of a Foundation initiative (Grow the Game) that supports elite and amateur football.
The Roughriders’ ambassador for Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Lenius also finds time to lead community groups on tours of Mosaic Stadium and to engage with Indigenous people through smudge walks, community barbecues, pep rallies and powwows.
He also spoke — from the heart, as always — at an anti-racism symposium.
A Lisfranc (mid-foot joint) sprain, suffered July 29 against the Toronto Argonauts in Halifax, ultimately ended Lenius’s season, but not his commitment to reaching out to and helping others.
“Brayden’s unwavering dedication to giving back to his community is both impactful and inspiring,” said Cindy Fuchs, the Foundation’s Executive Director.
“His efforts stand as a shining example of what it means to be a part of Rider Nation.”
Lenius was born into Rider Nation on Dec. 19, 1996. His father, Troy Dickey, was a receiver with the Roughriders in 1995.
“With my story, I really understand what Rider Nation means,” Lenius said. “I’ve grown up being immersed in it. It’s instilled in me.
“It’s not even a second thought of, ‘Should I do this or do that?’ No, it’s something I have to do and something I want to do, too. It has been like that ever since I was a kid.
“I have so many pictures of me wearing Riders stuff as a kid, so now it’s full circle.”
Although Lenius can share fond memories of his childhood, he also has vivid recollections of growing up in poverty and with food insecurity.
He was seven when he moved from Regina to Vancouver with his mother, Shauna Lenius.
Eventually, Brayden re-established a close connection with his father.
In late December of 2017, Dickey travelled to Arizona to watch his son play for the University of Washington Huskies in the Fiesta Bowl.
Dickey, who had starred for the University of Arizona Wildcats in the 1994 Fiesta Bowl, suffered a major stroke shortly after landing in Phoenix and being greeted at the airport by Brayden.
Dickey soon passed away at age 46.
“Through all my life, I’ve had a lot of adversity,” Lenius said. “Through all those moments, you build that resilience and that tough skin of dealing with certain things that life throws at you.
“You never prepare for those things to happen but when they come, I lean on the foundation I’ve been raised on and who I am as a man today.”
Who he is was the cornerstone for the selection of the 2023 Jake Gaudaur Veterans’ Award winner.
Lenius became the fourth Roughrider to receive the honour, following Mike McCullough (who was the inaugural winner in 2010), Graeme Bell (2012) and Dan Clark (2022).
“When Arielle (Zerr, Director of Communications) pulled me aside to tell me I was nominated, I stopped for a second and said, ‘No way. What did I do to get this? I know I’ve done community stuff, but did I really have that much of an impact?’ ” Lenius said.
“She told me what she thought and it was an amazing feeling, especially after I was able to go to the awards last year and see Dan Clark win it and hear his speech. It was kind of surreal.
“This really does mean the whole world to me. Having accolades in football is amazing, but to have a character award is truly an honour.”