Veteran cornerback Houston set to begin new CFL chapter with Calgary Stampeders

Demerio Houston hopes quarterback Jake Maier isn't holding a grudge when the Calgary Stampeders open training camp next month.

Houston intercepted Maier twice last season with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, returning one 45 yards for his first CFL touchdown. The two are teammates now after Houston signed a two-year deal that includes $275,000 in hard money with Calgary in February.

Houston's TD anchored Winnipeg's 19-18 road win Aug. 18 that capped a sweep of the two-game season series. The pick-six highlighted a stellar campaign that saw Houston lead the CFL in interceptions (seven) and defensive takeaways (10).

"It was my first (pick-six) as a professional so it will always be with me," Houston said. "Hopefully they (Maier, Stampeders) forgive me now that we're on the same team."

The five-foot-10, 173-pound Houston was a 2023 CFL all-star, adding 50 tackles in 15 regular-season contests. He helped Winnipeg make a fourth straight Grey Cup appearance although the Bombers lost 28-24 to the Montreal Alouettes in Hamilton.

Houston first signed with Winnipeg in 2020 but that season was cancelled due to the global pandemic. He started 2021 on the practice roster before cracking the active roster later in the year.

He was with Winnipeg for its last three championship appearances, including a 33-25 overtime victory over Hamilton at Tim Hortons Field in 2021. The following year, the Bombers dropped a heartbreaking 24-23 decision to Toronto in Regina.

"It (Montreal loss) is still with me and will probably stay with me the rest of my career," Houston said. "But it's something I'm going to use as fuel and grow from.

"I can't change it. I would if I could but you just have to learn from it and get better."

The Stampeders have made the CFL playoffs 18 straight seasons, the longest active streak and fourth-longest in league history. They've won eight Grey Cups, the last coming in 2018.

Houston certainly had a nose for football in 2023, attributing his success to thorough film study, off-field preparation, and remaining active during games.

"It starts with running to the ball," he said. "Many of my plays come with the ball in the air but I also had three fumble recoveries last year, which is running to the football and when you do that, good things happen.

"Film study helps you know situations like when they need a big play and they're going to go deep or when they're going to try to hit a short route. It's taking full advantage of opportunities when they come."

Calgary's defence already features top playmakers like defensive lineman Mike Rose (11 sacks) and linebackers Micah Awe (club-record 134 defensive tackles) and Canadian Cameron Judge (90 defensive tackles, team-high five interceptions). Still, much will be expected of Houston, something he's good with.

"I feel like people will be asking if I can do it again and I feel like I can," Houston said. "There's definitely going to be pressure going to a new team and having to learn everybody and a new system. 

"I'm going to stick to what I've been doing my whole career and again bet on myself. Calgary is betting on me as well."

Houston registered 84 tackles, three special-teams tackles and nine interceptions in 30 regular-season games with Winnipeg.

"Teams are always looking for dominant, playmaking cornerbacks and Demerio, coming off a '23 all-star season, had many options to explore," said Kenny Kim of Summit Athletes, Houston's Florida-based agent. "We all understand the business of professional football and Demerio went to a team that values him as a person and all-star calibre defender."

Ideally, Houston would've liked to remain with Winnipeg but said if that wasn't possible Calgary was his top destination. Houston won't have to wait long to face his former team as the Stamps and Bombers not only meet in the pre-season (May 31 in Winnipeg) but twice early in the regular season (June 29 at McMahon Stadium, July 12 at Princess Auto Stadium).

"(Facing the Bombers) is going to be different," Houston said. "My wife and I were talking about it and she asked if I thought (Winnipeg fans) would boo or cheer me?

"I'd hope they'd cheer but if they boo me, it comes with the territory. I'm excited about (return to Winnipeg) but I'll be honest I go into every game with the same mindset and approach … play my best and get a win."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 12, 2024.


Argos-Riders contests to be family affair for Toronto receiver DaVaris Daniels

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats remain Toronto's biggest CFL rival but receiver DaVaris Daniels has the Argonauts' dates with the Saskatchewan Roughriders circled on his calendar.

Toronto visits Regina on July 4 and hosts Saskatchewan on Aug. 22. Those games are significant to Daniels because his father, Phillip, is in his first season as Saskatchewan's defensive line coach.

"I never thought I'd ever be in this position playing against my dad," Daniels said with a chuckle. "It's a wild dynamic and I think the wildest part of it is my mom has to figure out what colours she wants to wear when we play against each other.

"I don't know how she's going to do it. There's a lot of pressure on her."

Phillip Daniels joined Saskatchewan following four seasons as a coach with the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles (earning a Super Bowl ring in 2018) and a year in Washington's front office. Daniels also played 15 seasons as a defensive lineman with Seattle (1996-99), Chicago (2000-03) and the then Redskins (2004-10).

And with football as a common bond, DaVaris Daniels has often leaned on his father.

"It's exciting for the game, I think it's exciting for the league and it's exciting for our family," he said. "I think (coaching in football-mad Saskatchewan) is the best kind of atmosphere and environment he needs to be introduced to the CFL.

"Obviously he's on the opposite side of the ball so when I'm on the field I won't get to watch as much but when we're not playing them I'll watch that D-line and see what they're doing."

But his father won't be the only familiar face Daniels will see with Saskatchewan. Rookie head coach Corey Mace is Toronto's former defensive co-ordinator, while Daniels also has a history with offensive co-ordinator Marc Mueller, secondary coach Josh Bell and receivers coach Marquay McDaniel.

Also, running back A.J. Ouellette, who ran for 1,009 yards last season with Toronto, joined the Riders in free agency.

"I'm just excited for my dad because of the coaching staff they have," Daniels said. "I know these guys and they're all great people so I couldn't be happier with who he's around and the atmosphere he's walking into after his NFL career."

Daniels, 31, is entering his fourth season in Toronto and eighth in the CFL. The six-foot-one, 203-pound former Notre Dame star had 52 catches for a career-best 1,009 yards with eight TDs last season and was a big part of the 2022 Grey Cup champs posting the best regular-season record in their history (16-2).

But that accomplishment became moot after Montreal upset Toronto 38-17 in the East Division final en route to winning its first Grey Cup since 2010.

"It was a bitter pill," Daniels said. "Even to this day, it doesn't feel real given the season we had and the players and lockerroom we had.

"It's not something that's easy to get over but I'm not sure we want to get over it because of the motivation it brings to this season."

Toronto's 2024 squad will differ vastly from last year's.

In addition to the coaches and Ouellette, Toronto lost defensive linemen Dewayne Hendrix and Brandon Barlow, cornerback Jamal Peters (all to Hamilton) and kick-returner Javon Leake (Edmonton) in free agency while releasing kicker Boris Bede (Edmonton) and linebacker Adarius Pickett (Ottawa). One positive, though, was Canadian kicker Lirim Hajrullahu's return after three seasons (2020-22) in the NFL.

Toronto has finished atop the East Division the last three seasons but will be considered an underdog by many this year.

"Please do," said Daniels. "No question, I think it's easy to look at who left and how big they were on our team ... but I also think many people forget how deep we were last year, especially on defence.

"That's something we're carrying into this season, that chip on our shoulders."

While others left Toronto, Daniels signed an extension this off-season to remain through 2025. The CFL's 2016 top rookie said it was an easy decision to continue grinding with the likes of linebacker Wynton McManis, safety Royce Metchie and defensive back DaShaun Amos, who like Daniels are all also former Stamps.

"We're very loyal to each other, we care about each other greatly and it's hard to leave that," Daniels said. "I left that before in 2019 when I went to Edmonton and I know the grass isn't always greener.

"It just feels right to be in Toronto with this group. I feel like this gives myself and the team the best shot at winning another championship."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 11, 2024.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers post 2023 operating profit of $5.7 million

WINNIPEG — It was another strong season off the field for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

The CFL club announced it posted a net operating profit of $5.7 million in 2023, a season that saw Winnipeg (14-4) finish atop the West Division for a third straight year.

The community-owned franchise also made a fourth straight Grey Cup appearance, dropping a 28-24 decision to the Montreal Alouettes at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton.

Winnipeg announced its 2023 profit Thursday upon releasing its annual report.

Revenue totalled $50.5 million in 2023, up $5.1 million (11.2 per cent) over 2022. 

The club's gate receipts increased to $15.1 million (9.6 per cent ahead of last year) while game-day, merchandise and concessions revenue hit $11.5 million, (10.5 per cent increase).

However, the numbers continue to look bleak for Valour FC, the Winnipeg-based Canadian Premier League soccer club owned and operated by the Blue Bombers.

The report stated that Valour lost $1.25 million last year and said the club's finances continue to be uncertain.

The Bombers reported a $950,000 loss from operating the CPL franchise on its 2022 annual report.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 11, 2024.


Three-time Grey Cup champion Shawn Lemon announces retirement from football

Shawn Lemon is going out on top.

The veteran defensive lineman announced his CFL retirement Wednesday. The decision came less than five months after Lemon helped the Montreal Alouettes defeat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 28-24 at Tim Hortons Field for their first Grey Cup title since 2010.

"I just spent some time thinking about it and it's time for me to move on," Lemon said. "I'm definitely grateful and thankful for my time in the Canadian Football League.

"It's just the right time to leave after a championship and an amazing season with Montreal. I'm thankful they (Alouettes) gave me an opportunity to come in and play last year. I just wish I could've got to Montreal a little earlier in my career."

As for life after football, Lemon said he has some irons in the fire but nothing imminent.

Lemon, 35, had signed a one-year deal with Montreal in December. He joined the Alouettes last season after being released by the B.C. Lions during training camp.

After acquiring Lemon, Montreal went 12-4, including the post-season. He had 26 defensive tackles, nine sacks, two interceptions and one forced fumble in 13 regular-season games.

The Charleston, S.C., native also earned his 100th CFL sack last season, And Lemon said over a career that spanned 13 seasons, the '23 campaign will remain a career highlight.

"Just looking at how the Grey Cup went and all of the adversity I dealt with last year," he said. "For the season to wrap up the way it did with reaching my 100th career sack, 13 years played in the CFL and being the 13th player in league history to reach 100 career sacks was unreal.

"Then me as a player not having signed with Hamilton but winning a Grey Cup in (Tiger-Cats) home locker room, I couldn't have written a better script."

Lemon began his pro career with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers as a practice-roster player in 2011 and spent time with every CFL team except Hamilton. He also won Grey Cups with Calgary (2014) and Toronto (2017). He also spent time with the NFL's San Francisco 49ers and Pittsburgh Steelers as well as two Arena Football League teams and another in the Indoor Football League.

Retired quarterback Kevin Glenn is the only player in CFL history to have been with all nine franchises.

Lemon registered 237 tackles and 101 sacks in 237 career regular-season games. He also had three interceptions, forced 30 fumbles and returned a fumble recovery for a touchdown.

Lemon was a CFL all-star in 2022 when he had 14 sacks with Calgary, tying his career-best recorded in 2016 over 16 contests with Toronto. He was named the West Division's top defensive player that season.

"You always want to leave the league better than how you found it and I felt like I truly, truly left this league better than I found it," Lemon said. "I tried to be a good teammate, I tried to be a good mentor, I tried to be a good leader to my peers."

Lemon said there were many CFL coaches and front-office personnel who were instrumental over his career, including Montreal general manager, Danny Maciocia, head coach Jason Maas, defensive co-ordinator Noel Thorpe and defensive line coach Corvey Irvin. 

He also highlighted working with Wally Buono, John Hufnagel, Brent Monson, Cornell Brown, DeVone Claybrooks, Corey Mace, Cory Chamblin and the late Rich Stubler at previous stops.

"I was fortunate enough to sign contracts with eight of the nine teams in the CFL and I've enjoyed every moment," Lemon said. "I've really enjoyed the journey, it's been nothing short of amazing.

"I'm super thankful I was embraced by the league, by the fans, by the CFLPA, by the coaches and front offices and my teammates. I'm so happy to have called Canada home."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 10, 2024.

Veteran cornerback Peters anxious to join Hamilton Tiger-Cats

HAMILTON — He's still adjusting to life with a different team, but Jamal Peters is comfortable with his new colours.

The veteran cornerback will suit up with Hamilton in 2024 following three seasons with the archrival Toronto Argonauts. While that means getting used to a new city and team, Peters will have no issues donning the Tiger-Cats' black and gold uniform.

"I wore black and gold in high school (in Bassfield, Mississippi)," said Peters, in town for the CFL's '24 content shoot. "Our team name was the Yellowjackets so it will be like those days all over again."

The six-foot-two, 220-pound Peters established himself as one of the CFL's top cover corners with Toronto, registering 120 tackles, 11 interceptions and two forced fumbles in 36 regular-season games. Peters was a '22 CFL all-star when he recorded a league-high six interceptions (one pick-six) and 57 tackles in helping the Argos win the Grey Cup.

Peters started 13 games last season, registering 32 tackles (two for loss), four interceptions and two forced fumbles. But after posting a CFL-best 16-2 regular-season record, Toronto's stellar campaign ended with a stunning 38-17 East Division final loss to eventual Grey Cup-champion Montreal.

It's a defeat that still bothers Peters.

"I still have a bad taste in my mouth with how it ended after the season we had," he said. "That's why I'm preparing twice a day trying to get my mind right because I have high expectations coming into this season.

"I felt I left a lot of plays on the field . . . but I'm still bringing the same mindset and championship DNA because I know what it takes to win."

Peters would have relished remaining in Toronto and helping the Argos return to the Grey Cup, but said Hamilton was very persistent in pursuing him in free agency.

"No bad feelings, at the end of the day business is business," Peters said. "It was a little hurtful at first when we were trying to negotiate and we weren't seeing eye-to-eye . . . but Hamilton really wanted me and I'm very excited to get going with them.

"It (playing Argos in 2024) will be my first time facing a team I played for and I'll be thrilled to maybe show them what they lost but at the end of the day it will be just another game within the division. My thing is to remain calm, don't get too excited because when you do in those type of games, that's when things go bad."

Remaining in the East Division was important for Peters so his parents, brother and girlfriend could continue attending his games.

"I never thought I'd leave Toronto because when you start with an organization you feel that's where you're going to be," he said. "But God had other plans and so it's kind of the same approach but with a different team and I'll get accustomed to that as soon as camp starts."

Peters doesn't see his game changing much with Hamilton.

"I still have to be Jamal," he said. "Every time I step on to the field, I feel like I'm the best player on the field and have to be better than I was the game before.

"Nothing has really changed, it's still football, just a new team. The system will be different but I've been playing football all of my life, I'm going into my fourth year (in CFL) so I'm comfortable with where I'm at but I'm not where I want to be, which is to be great."

Peters' 2024 goals are to contend for the CFL's top defensive player honour and help Hamilton secure its first Grey Cup title since 1999.

"Jamal is a natural leader and high-character individual," said Kenny Kim of Summit Athletes, Peters' Florida-based agent. "He was well sought-after during the free-agent period and I expect he'll come into the Hammer and let his play speak for itself.

"Jamal will continue to grow as a person and player and prove this year why he's one of the CFL's premier defensive players."

Something Peters is very anxious to show the Ticats.

"They're getting a guy who'll play 100 per cent and give 100 per cent effort," he said. "I'm just an all-in guy and they're going to get my best every game. 

"I'm ready to get it started."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 9, 2024.

Calgary Stampeders to add former coach/GM Wally Buono to their Wall of Fame

CALGARY — The Calgary Stampeders will add former head coach/GM Wally Buono to their Wall of Fame, the CFL club announced Monday.

Buono joined the Stampeders as an assistant coach in 1987 before becoming head coach in 1990. 

He remained in that post through 2002, leading Calgary to top spot in the West Division seven times, six Grey Cup appearances and three victories.

Buono added GM duties in 1992. He holds the franchise records for most games coached (234), victories (153), playoff wins (12) and championships.

He later joined the B.C. Lions as head coach and general manager in 2003 and remained with the club until retiring after the 2018 season.

Buono will be honoured at halftime of Calgary's home game July 21 versus B.C.

"We’re excited to bring back the Wall of Fame and honouring Wally is the perfect way to mark this historic occasion,” said Calgary president Jay McNeil, who played nine seasons for Buono as a Stampeders offensive lineman. "Wally was an excellent coach and general manager and his success with the Stampeders teams of the 1990s and early 2000s is an indelible chapter in the franchise’s proud history."

Buono remains B.C.'s all-time leader in wins with 162 and led the franchise to two Grey Cup wins. He became the winningest coach in CFL history Sept. 19, 2009, passing the late Don Matthews’ mark of 231. 

Buono retired with a total of 282 regular-season victories as a CFL head coach. He was part of seven Grey Cup-winning teams, including two as a player with the Montreal Alouettes, and four times received the Annis Stukus Trophy as the league's coach of the year.

Buono was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2014.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 8, 2024.

Andrew Harris to sign one-day deal and retire as a Winnipeg Blue Bomber

WINNIPEG — Running back Andrew Harris will sign a one-day contract with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers this month and retire as a member of the team, the CFL club said Friday. 

"Thank you for everything," the Blue Bombers said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, in a post that included a goat emoji and a graphic of some of Harris's accomplishments. 

Harris, a 36-year-old Winnipeg native, helped the Blue Bombers win Grey Cup titles in 2019 and 2021. 

He also earned a CFL championship in 2011 with the B.C. Lions and in 2022 with the Toronto Argonauts.

Harris, who became the CFL's all-time leading Canadian rusher in 2019, registered five 1,000-yard rushing seasons over his 13-year CFL career. He played in 12 games last season for the Argonauts, recording 229 rushing yards on 49 carries with two touchdowns.

Harris plans to sign his ceremonial contract on April 27. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 5, 2024. 

Wilfrid Laurier's Luke Brubacher impressing despite limited football experience

WATERLOO, ONTARIO — As Wilfrid Laurier's head football coach, Michael Faulds has seen many walk-ons.

But never one like Luke Brubacher.

The six-foot-six, 255-pound defensive end's introduction to football came in 2021 with the Golden Hawks after he sent Faulds an email requesting a tryout. 

Three years later, the former amateur boxer from Listowel, Ont., is projected as an early selection in the '24 CFL draft on April 30.

With the global pandemic forcing the cancellation of the '20 season, Faulds said Brubacher's timing was ideal.

"Unfortunately, Luke didn't have film but when he mentioned his height and weight and that he had a boxing background, suddenly you look at those measurables and are like, 'Wow, let's at least take a shot at this.'

"COVID was a perfect time to be patient because we had no season, so the stars kind of aligned for him to put on a helmet and shoulder pads for the very first time."

Brubacher, a kinesiology student, never played football because his high school didn't have a program. So he participated in hockey, basketball and soccer before pursuing boxing.

"Football was something I thought I'd be good at because I was always kind of a little rough in the sports I played," he said. "I certainly got knocked on my rear a time or two in training camp and my first few games because everything was happening so quickly in front of me.

"Guys always talk about how big of a jump it is from high school to university, so obviously going from nothing to university was crazy. But my goal coming in was to be respected by my teammates and the guys around me. I wanted to show I was a hard worker and someone who could at least compete and just go from there."

Brubacher not only made the squad in 2021 but quickly became a starter. Over three seasons, he registered 61 tackles (15.5 for loss) and 12 sacks, with a team-high six coming last year.

Brubacher said boxing helped him transition to football.

"Boxing requires a lot of co-ordination with your hands and feet and as a D-lineman that's about 90 per cent of what the position is," he said. "In boxing, it's just you in a ring against someone who wants to knock you out . . . I don't think it can get scarier than that, honestly.

"Going into a football game I'm pretty comfortable and relaxed because I got used to dealing with my nerves."

Suffice to say, Brubacher exceeded expectations at Laurier.

"I'd say with all of our walk-ons, we have very little expectations," Faulds said. "It's one of those things where if it works out, amazing, but if it doesn't we'll just part ways at some point in the process.

"But in his case, it's an extreme with how well Luke has done."

Despite undergoing shoulder surgery in December, Brubacher participated in the CFL national combine earlier this month in Winnipeg. He wasn't medically cleared for the 225-pound bench press but impressed with a 40-yard dash time of 4.69 seconds, 38-inch vertical, 10 foot six inch broad jump, 7.06-second three cone and 4.34-second shuttle.

Impressive, considering much of Brubacher's combine preparation came with one arm in a sling.

"At this point, everything is kind of out of my hands so I try not to think or worry about (CFL draft)," he said. "Before the combine, there certainly was a lot of anxiety . . . there were a few days where I was nervous and unsure if I'd be ready but I put in a lot of extra hours in the gym and physio room to get to where I had to be."

TSN football analyst Jim Barker, a five-time Grey Cup champion as a CFL coach and executive, feels Brubacher is in a good spot.

"He's a big body who can play special teams and when you're a big body who can play special teams, there's always a spot for you," Barker said. "Now, will he develop into being Robbie Smith (former Laurier defensive lineman currently with the Toronto Argonauts) and become an effective edge guy? That's up to him. But he's going to get the opportunity, I can promise you, because guys like him don't grow on trees.

"If he devotes himself to being a football player, within a short time he'll be like Mathieu Betts looking for an NFL offer. He hasn't even scratched the surface yet."

Betts was the CFL's top defensive player last season. The former B.C. Lions defensive end signed this off-season with the NFL's Detroit Lions.

Brubacher says the club drafting him will get a player who can make the jump to the pro ranks and will work hard.

"I'll be someone they're never going to have to worry about because I'm going to put in the work and check off boxes every day and when I get on the field," he said. "I play hard and fast and have that intensity from beginning to end every game.

"I know it (jump to CFL) will be big but I have a lot of confidence in myself knowing I went from nothing to playing at the university level. I'm a fast learner and although at times I know it will be a tough process, I feel I'll adjust pretty quickly."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 3, 2024.

Jim Hopson, who helped Roughriders win two titles from the boardroom, dead at age 73

He played four seasons with his hometown Saskatchewan Roughriders, but Jim Hopson's greatest contribution to the storied franchise came in the boardroom.

Two of the Riders' four Grey Cup victories were during Hopson's tenure as president and chief executive officer. The Regina native died Tuesday at age 73.

Hopson was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer in 2021.

"I'm being very honest when I say I've had an incredible life," Hopson told The Canadian Press in January. "I feel blessed.

"The opportunities I've had to play with the Riders, to play with Ronnie and George (quarterback Ron Lancaster and running back George Reed, both legendary players in franchise history). My education career I'm very proud of and to come back and we had this marvellous run and Grey Cups and all the other things. I wish there was a little bit more of a runway here going forward but you don't get to choose so you have to be thankful for what you have."

Following his diagnosis, Hopson emphasized the importance of early testing.

"If I would've got checked even six months before or a year before for sure, it probably would've been a situation where they could've done something," he said. "What's been gratifying is I've had people reach out and say, 'Jim, I'm in my late 40s and I thought what the heck and got checked and sure as heck I had some growths but they were precancerous.'

"If you can do that and get people to pay attention, that's what I've wanted to do, to leave that message with people and tell them to be positive and try as hard as they can to enjoy every day and every good moment."

Football was a major part of Hopson's life. He played high school football in the city before joining the Regina Rams junior squad.

Hopson, an offensive lineman, signed with the Riders in 1973. He became a starter the following season and played with Lancaster and Reed.

While playing football in 1975 and '76, Hopson also taught school in Saskatchewan. Hopson appeared in the 1976 Grey Cup game with Saskatchewan, a game the Ottawa Rough Riders rallied to win 23-20.

Hopson was dealt to Winnipeg before the '77 campaign but retired to pursue teaching full-time. He'd graduated from the University of Regina with a degree in education and went on to receive a master's degree from the University of Oregon.

"Jim liked to tell people he was just a big, old offensive lineman," said CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie, also a former CFL offensive lineman. "That sounded like self deprecation to some but fellow members of the most unique fraternity in sport understood he was really signalling his pride in having blocked for the likes of Lancaster and Reed and the responsibility he felt, to protect his beloved Saskatchewan Roughriders and grow the game.

"His many CFL friends are grateful for his contributions, which have earned him a place in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, as we mourn his passing, and send our sympathies to his beloved Brenda, family and friends."

Following a career in education, Hopson returned to the Riders. He became their first full-time president/CEO, a post he held from 2005 to 2015.

Saskatchewan reached the Grey Cup four times during Hopson's tenure, winning in 2007 and '13. The 2013 championship was especially gratifying for the Riders as they defeated the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 45-23 before 44,710 spectators in Regina.

Hamilton's head coach, Kent Austin, guided the Riders to their '07 title.

"As president, Jim ushered in a new era for our organization that included two Grey Cup championships, incredible financial success, and perhaps most importantly, a belief in Roughrider football that will never fade away," Riders president/CEO Craig Reynolds said. "But more than that, Jim was an optimist, someone who made you feel better by just being around him and a friend to all who knew him."

The Roughriders were also successful off the field during Hopson's tenure. They went from posting just a $455 profit in his first year to securing their long-term future with record savings and investments.

The Riders became the CFL's leader in merchandise sales, outselling the other eight clubs combined. 

Hopson earned respect in football circles for being a direct but fair leader who often emerged from discussions as the voice of reason. And he was humble, choosing to redirect praise to others he felt were more deserving.

Late during his tenure as Riders CEO/president, Hopson was requested to help with contentious collective bargaining talks between the CFL and CFL Players' Association.

"I was very fortunate to become president during a very good time in the Riders history," Hopson said. "The team was solid in terms of football personnel because of what Roy (GM Roy Shivers) and Danny (head coach Danny Barrett) had done.

"The board had things in pretty good shape and the province was going to take off like we had never seen."

During the 1990s, the community-owned franchise appeared to be on the brink of folding with a reported debt of about $3 million. But under Hopson, the Riders began playing before sellout crowds and finishing in the black.

Upon Hopson's retirement, the Riders had partnered with the city of Regina and province of Saskatchewan to build a state-of-the-art open-air facility called the new Mosaic Stadium, which opened in 2017.

Hopson was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2019, an honour that took him by surprise.

"I was speechless," Hopson said. "If you knew me you'd know that's hard to believe."

He was also induction into the Riders' Plaza of Honour in 2018 and the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund Hall of Fame four years later. And Hopson appreciated the continuous support and encouragement he received following his diagnosis.

"The support I've had from friends, family, teammates, it's been incredible and it really did mean a lot," Hopson said. "We find it hard sometimes to reach out to people when they're dealing with this kind of stuff but when you do, it means a lot."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 3, 2024.

Saskatchewan Roughriders sign receiver Emilus to one-year contract extension

REGINA — The Saskatchewan Roughriders signed Canadian receiver Samuel Emilus to a one-year contract extension Monday.

The deal keeps Emilus with the Riders through the 2025 season.

The six-foot-one 200-pound Montreal native registered 70 catches for 1,097 yards and six TDs last season, just his second in the CFL. Saskatchewan selected Emilus, 26, in the first round, No. 7 overall, in the 2022 CFL draft.

Emilus became the fastest Canadian in team history to register a 1,000-yard season - Hall of Famer Ray Elgaard did so in his third campaign. Emilus is also just the fifth Canuck to crack the plateau after Elgaard, Jeff Fairholm, Chris Getzlaf and Andy Fantuz.

Emilus had 10 catches for 165 games over 15 regular-season games as a rookie.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 1, 2024.

Veteran Harris has no doubts that he'll be ready for the start of Riders camp

Trevor Harris will be full-go when the Saskatchewan Roughriders open training camp in May.

The veteran quarterback missed most of last season — his first in Regina — with a significant knee injury. But Harris told reporters Thursday he could have returned at about 70 per cent efficiency had Saskatchewan reached the West Division final and was back at full strength by Christmas.

"I'm just doing maintenance now," he said during a video conference. "Right around Christmas time . . . I was able to do everything I needed to do movement-wise, strength-wise, quickness-wise, being comfortable taking hits.

"I was really pleased with that because it gave me the entire off-season to work on things I wanted to work on . . . and hit an off-season full speed as opposed to thinking about the injury up to the eight-month mark, which is about the time frame (eight to 10 months) they gave me."

Saskatchewan was 3-1 when Harris suffered a season-ending tibial plateau fracture in his right knee in a home loss to Calgary on July 15. The Riders (6-12) earned just three wins the rest of the way, losing their final seven regular-season games for a second straight year to miss the CFL playoffs.

The six-foot-three, 212-pound Harris completed 104-of-155 passes (67.6 per cent) for 1,274 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions last season. The Waldo, Ohio, native enters his 12th CFL season having started 101-of-166 games and sporting an impressive 70.6 completion average.

In the off-season, Saskatchewan hired Corey Mace — formerly Toronto's defensive co-ordinator — as head coach and Calgary quarterback coach Marc Mueller as offensive co-ordinator. Mueller, a Regina native, also played collegiately there and is the grandson of legendary Riders quarterback Ron Lancaster, who died in '08 at age 69.

But Saskatchewan's off-season moves didn't stop there. General manager Jeremy O'Day also added running back A.J. Ouellette (1,000-yard rusher last year with Toronto), offensive tackle Jermarcus Hardrick (West's top lineman last season with Winnipeg), defensive back Jalon Edwards-Cooper (B.C.), linebacker Jameer Thurman (Hamilton) and defensive lineman Malik Carney (Ticats) while also retaining receiver Shawn Bane Jr. (93 catches, 1,104 yards, four TDs), Canadian offensive lineman Phillip Blake and defensive linemen Micah Johnson and Anthony Lanier II.

Harris might still be preparing for the 2024 season but his wit was in midseason form given how he addressed Saskatchewan's busy off-season.

"I'm really disgruntled," he deadpanned. "It's been really, really tough for me to see A.J. Ouellette leave Toronto . . . it's been very difficult to see Jermarcus Hardrick, offensive lineman of the year, come and be protecting us.

"Such great pass rushers and DBs we've signed, some rookies we're looking forward to seeing. (Seriously) they've done a tremendous job and I think they've stepped up and (taken) a stance to say we're going all-in this year, this is the year we're really going to do this thing."

Saskatchewan's last Grey Cup win came in 2013.

Harris has played for two Grey Cup-winning teams (Toronto, 2012; Ottawa, 2016) during a CFL career that's seen him also spend time with the Argos (2012-15), Redblacks (2016-18), Edmonton (2019, 2021) and Montreal (2021-22). He had a career-high 33 TD strikes in 2015 and three years later registered his only 5,000-yard season (5,116).

But Harris turns 38 on May 31 and is coming off an season-ending injury.

Harris has suggested he could see himself playing well into his 40s. While he still feels that's possible, Harris said at a point in his career he's taking it year by year.

"Serious injuries can change things because there were times early in this off-season where I was like, "I don't know if I can do it," Harris said. "Right around Christmas was when I was like, 'OK, I think we can do this.'

"I think that's still an attainable goal but I'm just going to be one year at a time. Listen to my body, listen to my mind, listen to my family and kind of go from there."

Harris is entering the final year of his CFL contract and said there have been no discussions about an extension. Of more importance, Harris said, is getting the Riders back on track and giving their rabid fans plenty to cheer about.

"I took it very personal last year what happened and it's just been kind of a personal mindset this off-season in terms of we're not going to let that happen again," Harris said. "It feels like a fresh start, it doesn't feel like a brand new team . . . it just seems like there's a new feeling (within) the organization.

"It has really excited me and the guys I've been talking to. I think the fans can really get excited about the team this year and really get behind it."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 28, 2024.

Alouettes defensive back Murray thankful injury allowed him to help care for mother

It cost him a chance to play in the Grey Cup but Najee Murray is thankful the injury that ended his season happened when it did.

Murray's 2023 campaign ended July 30 when he suffered a torn pectoral muscle in Montreal's 25-18 win over the Calgary Stampeders. Surgery was required, forcing him to watch the Alouettes' improbable Grey Cup march.

But the setback allowed Murray to be with his 52-year-old mother when she was unexpectedly admitted into hospital in Steubenville, Ohio, with an autoimmune condition. That was also about the time when Murray and his wife learned they'd be first-time parents as their daughter's due date is April 14.

"I'd say everything happens for a reason," Murray said during a telephone interview. "My injury gave me an opportunity to be with my mom which I wouldn't have necessarily had if I was playing ... and then my wife and I found out she was pregnant.

"(Watching Grey Cup) was undoubtedly the toughest thing I've ever had to do. But I'm a spiritual person and think it all worked out in the end."

Fortunately for Murray, his mother is slowly improving.

"I was able to help take care of her in the hospital, which is one of the best things that could've happened," he said. "I don't ever wish injury on me but I'm grateful it happened when it did.

"She's getting better. It's one of those things where she's got to continue to build her strength but we both live by the motto of one per cent better each day."

The five-foot-eight, 194-pound Murray enjoyed a solid start in 2023, registering 33 tackles, an interception, forced fumble and fumble recovery in six games before his injury. Over five seasons with Montreal, Murray had started 30-of-39 regular-season games, accumulating 119 tackles, six special-teams tackles, seven interceptions (two TD returns), two forced fumbles and a recovery.

Murray, 29, re-signed with Montreal in January.

"Najee was off to a fast start in 2023 before his promising season was cut short by injury," said Kenny Kim of Summit Athletes, Murray's Florida-based agent. "I see him having a great bounce-back 2024 season.

"I enjoy spending time with Najee, he’s a great person to be around. He’s a consummate professional, well respected in the league and I know he’ll be a terrific and loving first-time father."

Murray said he's feeling stronger now than he did before the injury.

"What I miss most is putting on the pads and hitting someone," Murray said. "I can't wait to get out there with the guys, the staff, (head) coach (Jason) Maas.

"We know teams will be trying to beat us and we have to show we're still that team that just won the Grey Cup. But coach Maas is a great coach, he knows how to motivate us and get the most out of us."

Murray was on Montreal's sideline for its stunning 28-24 Grey Cup win over Winnipeg. Not only was it the Alouettes' first CFL title since 2010 but followed an uncertain off-season where the CFL took over the franchise, then sold it a month later to businessman Pierre Karl Peladeau.

And with five regular-season games remaining, Montreal's record was 6-7 following four straight losses. But the Alouettes didn't lose again, reeling off eight consecutive victories.

That included a 38-17 upset of the Toronto Argonauts (16-2) in the East final before downing a Winnipeg squad that was chasing a third title in four years. Murray also missed out on facing Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros, a two-time league MVP who's also from Steubenville.

"I was very thankful we got there, I was thankful we won," Murray said. "Not being able to play, that hurt a lot but now the mindset has switched to it's time to get back and help the team get back there."

This year, though, the Alouettes won't have element of surprise working for them.

"We expect everyone's best game but to me that's exciting," Murray said. "Who doesn't want to play teams who want to come out and give it their all?

"When you've never had something you dream about it, you may want it but you don't really know how that feels. But when you've experienced that feeling, it's like no other and you want to experience it again that much more."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 27, 2024.

More CFL articles

Upcoming Sports Events



Castanet Proud Member of RTNDA Canada