The Riders have a new secret weapon lining up on their offence this season, but there’s kind of one problem.
Quite frankly, it’s not much of a secret anymore.
Sanders a Triple Threat
Receiving: 14 catches, 100 yards
Rushing: 8 carries, 113 yards
Kick Returns: 9 attempts, 179 yards
Punt Returns: 15 attempts, 175 yards
The cat’s out of the bag on Jock Sanders, who played an important role in the Riders’ back-to-back wins over the Bombers in the Labour Day and Banjo Bowl games.
In the last two games, Sanders has made an impact catching passes regardless of which quarterback’s in the game, with 41 yards receiving on five receptions. He’s also made an impact in the running game with 77 rushing yards on six carries.
Meanwhile, the 24-year-old St. Petersburg, Florida native has also taken over return duties, with 162 yards on nine attempts, replacing former outstanding return man Tristan Jackson.
Talk about putting true meaning in the phrase ‘triple threat’. In his new role for the Riders, the West Virginia alum has become quite the jack, err, Jock of all trades.
“I think that’s one of the key reasons why I’m still here in Saskatchewan and being able to stay on the team, just because of the skillset I do bring,” said Sanders.
“If I were just a one-dimensional guy – not that I’m not good enough – but they’d probably say ‘we have enough backs that can just run, or we have enough receivers that can just catch’.”
Whether it’s in the office, the grocery store, or on the football field, you would think a guy might object to not having one defined role at work. But the second-year CFLer, who’s listed on the Riders’ roster as a slotback, takes pride in being a multi-talented athlete who can be deployed however the team sees fit.
Sanders doesn’t have a role with his new team – he has several, and if that’s what’ll help the team, he’s all for it.
“We’re getting to a point in this offence where we can start moving a lot of guys around, you know, confuse defences,” he said. “They want to use me in different ways, sometimes just being out there running routes and being a decoy, taking their key player out of the game and letting the other guys do what they do.”
“We have so many great weapons on this offence it’s hard to choose who’s going to be that game-breaker that week.”
What the five-foot-six Sanders lacks in size, he makes up for in his ability to make big plays. The emerging weapon has quickly earned a reputation as a slasher, and fans are noticing.
He’s quickly becoming a fan favourite in Riderville, and for Sanders it’s mutual. He loves being a Rider.
“This is how it was when I was in school and college at West Virginia, I was in a small town and the fans were crazy,” said Sanders. “When we go on the road trips to Calgary and Edmonton, it’s a home game for us just because we have so many fans.”
Sanders first joined the CFL last October, when he signed a practice roster agreement with the eventual Grey Cup champion BC Lions. In May, he joined the Riders with hopes of not just cracking a roster, but being able to make an impact. After overcoming an early-season injury, Sanders was able to starting contributing as soon as Week 4’s matchup with the Stampeders, when he busted off a 28-yard run on his only carry of the game in the first half.
Since then, the opportunities have only increased for the young slotback.
“My first goal was to get back healthy because I know the type of player that I am, and I know the type of things I can bring to the offence if I’m fully healthy,” said Sanders. “Now it’s time for me to have explosive plays, big plays, and have the defence say ‘where’s 29 going to be at on the next play?’ – just have the defence worried about what I’m going to do because I’m going to make plays as the opportunities come.”
“I’m going to find ways to be on the field and continue to just do what I’m doing.” Lately, the thought of keeping number 29 off the field hasn’t crossed anyone’s mind. Sanders knows he’s getting a great opportunity to show the league just what he’s capable of. But in the end, winning is pretty important too.
“The opportunity that I have to play ball again is great in itself – being able to get out there on the field and contribute as much as I’m starting to,” started Sanders. “I really want to win and we were in a slump, but now we’re starting to get back on a roll so I just want to continue to win and continue to roll in, so hopefully I can play a big part in contributing.”
As Riders fans have seen in the past couple of weeks, their new multi-talented weapon has a chance to play a pretty big role in winning down the stretch. Like every player on the team, Sanders knows the Green and White have proven they have the talent to go all the way this season.
Potential doesn’t equate to the ability to actually put it all together and make it work, though. For the Riders’ young gem, doing so will be up to the players themselves.
“We have to continue to believe that no matter what, we can beat anybody in this league,” said Sanders. “No matter the play call, we just have to go out there and execute and dominate our opponent that’s in front of us.”
“That’s what this team is getting to – we know we can beat anybody, we know we can play anybody. We had a slump, but we weren’t really ourselves and now that we’re back on our path and on the right road, we just have to continue doing what we’re doing.”
And if the Riders do make it to the big game in Toronto this November, be sure to keep a close eye on number 29 in Green and White – no matter what position he’s playing.