November 1, 2022

Nye: Sankey & Dean shone in dim Riders season

Kelly Clark/

The Saskatchewan Roughriders’ linebackers were a bright spot in a season in which the lights flickered out weeks ago.

Larry Dean and Darnell Sankey would be a great place to start when considering where to find a new foundation for a team in need of a renovation this off-season.

The BC Lions stayed competitive with a great defence led by Adam Bighill and Solomon Elimimian at linebacker.

Dean and Sankey just completed a season that saw them do something only ever seen by Bighill and Elimimian, which is have a pair of teammates each top 100 tackles. Both Rider linebackers also showed impeccable leadership during the season. It was early on that defenders pointed to Dean as the captain of the defence, who sets the standard for all other players.

The narrative during the months leading into the season was where would Dean fit in when the Riders went out and acquired Sankey from Calgary. The answer was easy for the organization when Canadian weakside linebacker Micah Teitz was dealt an injury in camp that would eventually led to him missing the entire 2022 season.

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Playing his first football since 2019, Larry Dean showed that he’s still at the top of his game, racking up 101 tackles in 2022 (Kevin Sousa/

From there, Dean and Sankey were a dynamic duo that battled for the league lead in tackles during the season. It wasn’t until the last month or so when Sankey started to run away with the lead, as he finished first in the entire league for the second consecutive season.

For Dean, the 2022 season was about redemption. This was Dean’s first season since 2019. 2020 was cancelled because of the pandemic and 2021 came to an end when he ruptured his Achilles in a pre-training camp workout.

Football was taken away from Dean for the first time in his life and after his first game back he stayed on the field with tears in his eyes appreciating that he once again had the privilege to play.

Dean will not take football for granted and never took a play off.

The same can be said for his running mate for defensive player of the year for the Riders. As voters filled out their ballots it was 1A and 1B between Dean and Sankey.

Sankey got the nod but Dean was the overwhelming second choice.

Sankey was another player that battled until the bitter end. Even late in the season finale against his former team, Sankey was coming up to lay hits and jumping up to get to the next play. He was in the face of opponents and in the backfield to try and create havoc.

Where Sankey impressed me the most was off the field. We all knew he was an exceptional linebacker but what we saw from a player in his first year in Regina was equally impressive as he gathered community partners around to get food for the less fortune and make a hot meal for those in need.

He helped feed 900 people and sent almost 300 bags of groceries and other goods home in a city he moved into just three months earlier.

Darnell Sankey put up big numbers on the field and substantial numbers off the field, leading a food drive in Regina this season (The Canadian Press)

It’s part of the reason that Sankey has endeared himself to Saskatchewan and why the first name that usually is mentioned in the ‘players the Riders should re-sign’ conversations is usually Darnell Sankey.

We’ll impatiently wait to see whether we find out if the feeling is mutual. I write impatiently because the longer the off-season goes, the more unsettled Rider Nation will be that it may lose another heart and soul type player.

What both players also stayed consistent on was avoiding falling into the excuses. Maybe it was due to the fact they were having such solid individual seasons but the more the losses piled up, the duos words stayed consistent.

Sankey had one of the more poignant clips of the season when he said “no one cares” about how many injuries a team has or what’s going on in the locker room. He was clear. Football is a production based business and you’re paid to produce. If you don’t, you deserve all the criticism that might come your way.

Dean, though a bit more soft spoken, had a similar message throughout the season.

These are the leaders you want in the room.

These are the leaders you want on the field.

These are the leaders you want in the community.

In a season full of losses, the Riders would rather not enter 2023 having to fill some very big holes in all three of those areas.

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