Riders express excitement, shock as training camp begins

Quarterbacks Tom Flacco (#14) and Cody Fajardo (#7) throwing during Day 1 of Riders training camp at Mosaic Stadium.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders kicked off CFL Training Camp this weekend.

After roughly 600 days away from Mosaic Stadium, the team was elated to return to the field.

“I had to let out a few yells just screaming, just to let people know how excited I was,” Shaq Evans, who led the Riders in reception yards in 2019, said.

Quarterback Cody Fajardo had similar emotions.

“It’s been a long hard road and a lot of people have done a lot of amazing things to get us where we’re at, so to be able to play football again has been truly amazing,” Fajardo said.

The team is still in shock following the loss of four players to significant injuries.

“There was a little bit of a sombre attitude,” head coach Craig Dickenson said.

On Thursday, Nelson Lokombo, Freddie Bishop, Larry Dean and Jonathan Femi-Cole sustainedAchilles injuries. Dickenson doesn’t believe they’ll be able to recover in time to return this season.

“I felt the emotion today was good but the team is still in a little bit of shock. We’re going to work through it and try to support those guys as best we can and give them all the reassurances that we can that we’ll do everything we can to get them healthy and back on the field,” Dickenson said.

Coaches weren’t allowed to attend pre-camp workouts, so none of the staff personnel were in attendance during the injuries.

“To just hear the news and to hear it was not just one but another and another, it was really heartbreaking for me,” Dickenson said. “There’s a lot of factors that led to it but ultimately it’s our responsibility as coaches and as leaders to take care of our people and we failed in that.”

Fajardo was one of the players at Mosaic Stadium during training. He explained the drills where the injuries occurred involved throwing a medicine ball, then sprinting to a location before the ball landed.

“It’s not like it was just some random new drill that we just threw in. We’ve done those before and we could do it a million times and I don’t think you see four of the same exact injuries happen, I just think it was a super fluke thing,” Fajardo said.

The CFL Players Association (CFLPA) is currently investigating the incident.

“The CFLPA’s job is to look out for the players and they’re always going to do that no matter what the situation is. So it’s there due diligence,” explained Riders safety Mike Edem.

As a result of the injuries, Dickenson altered day one of training camp as a precaution and avoided one on one drills.

“We stayed apart all day today, we didn’t have any competitive periods whatsoever, offense was on one side of the field, defense was in the other,” Dickenson said.

Instead, the Riders will incorporate competitive drills on Day 3, according to Dickenson.

“We asked the team to basically let us earn their trust back,” Dickenson said. “I felt like today was a good step in that direction.”