- FREE AGENCY
Eddie Meredith understands.
He gets why people are questioning his selection by the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the fourth round (32nd overall) of last week’s 2017 CFL Draft. After all, he walked away from football in 2016 — and yet the Roughriders picked him anyway.
But while Meredith can see why fans are unsure about his level of commitment, the 24-year-old product of Toronto is adamant he is prepared to return to the football field.
“I understand the concern; I think that’s a concern for pretty much any player who was drafted,” the 6-foot-6, 315-pound offensive lineman said from Toronto. “But that’s not where my head’s at now. I want to play football. I’m worried about what’s right in front of me, which is getting ready for camp and being the best I can be.”
Meredith’s post-secondary football career began with the NCAA’s Boston College Eagles, who recruited him out of St. Andrew’s College in Aurora, Ont.
He redshirted in his first season with the Eagles and then dressed for (but didn’t play in) a handful of games in his second. Eager to get on the field, he left Boston College and transferred to Western University in London, Ont.
Meredith played three seasons with the Mustangs, earning OUA All-Star honours in each of those campaigns. He was named a first-team U SPORTS All-Canadian in 2014 and a second-teamer in 2015.
Things changed in 2016.
He was going to continue studying sociology in graduate school but his research supervisor went on sabbatical. As a result, Meredith said, his education plans “kind of fell apart.”
“Offensive linemen are such a commodity. Off the old film, we had him very highly rated, so we thought, ‘Let’s do our due diligence. If anything, we’re just out a flight and a little bit of money’.”
Riders’ head coach and GM Chris Jones on Meredith
Then, in the summer of 2016, he took a trip to Chile and Argentina. He believes he caught an illness in South America, which helped drop his weight into the 260-pound range.
“I was eating everything down there — and that might not have been the best idea,” Meredith recalled with a chuckle.
He claims he initially wasn’t going to play in 2016 but then changed his mind. His plans changed again after he lost a significant amount of weight following his trip.
So Meredith made the decision to step away from football. He spent his time working in his mom’s accounting office instead of playing.
“It was tough,” Meredith said of being away from the game. “Football has been a part of my life for a long time. It has been the thing that has driven my life for a long time. It has given me a direction and a focus. I love the game, so not having it in my life was not easy.
“I wanted to play again — I really did — and I wanted to play pro,” he added. “I got a call a couple of months ago saying, ‘Some teams would be interested. Is that something you’d be interested in?’ It was, so I started training again.”
The Roughriders obviously were intrigued with his potential as the draft approached. Late last week, they decided to fly in Meredith, talk to him about his commitment and work him out.
“Offensive linemen are such a commodity,” Saskatchewan head coach-GM Chris Jones said after the draft. “Off the old film, we had him very highly rated, so we thought, ‘Let’s do our due diligence. If anything, we’re just out a flight and a little bit of money.’
“We flew him out, (Assistant Vice-President of Football Operations and Administration Jeremy O’Day) put him through the offensive line workout and we had our strength coach (Clint Spencer) put him through all the tests …
“His test numbers looked a lot like (second-round pick Dariusz) Bladek’s. We felt very good that he can at least come and compete.”
At the workout, Meredith’s weight was back over 300 pounds, he bench-pressed 225 pounds 22 times, he recorded a vertical jump of 25 inches and a broad jump of eight feet, six inches and he scored 31 on the Wonderlic test.
His numbers in the physical testing would have put him in the top four among offensive linemen at the national combine in Regina.
“I thought I did pretty well at the workout,” Meredith said. “I’ve been working out for the last two or three months, so I thought I was going to get a chance.
“I think I had a pretty good rapport with the (Saskatchewan) coaches. I like where their heads are at and I like what they’re doing, so I was hopeful (about being drafted by the Roughriders).”
On Sunday, Meredith watched the draft online. He said he knew he wasn’t “as certain a commodity” as other prospects because of his year off, but he still had a sneaking suspicion that Saskatchewan would take him.
Jones and his staff knew another team was interested in Meredith, so they grabbed him with one of their two fourth-round picks. Jones believes the Roughriders got good value with the selection, considering they had Meredith ranked among the top five O-linemen in the draft even though he hadn’t played in 2016.
“(Hearing that ranking) gives you a swell of confidence and pride,” Meredith said. “It’s great to know that a staff likes my game that much.
“I hope I can prove them entirely right — and I plan to.”