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Riders' defensive end Jordan Reaves hopeful for a 2020 CFL regular season

Jordan Reaves can't stand the thought of a second straight year without football. The Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive end missed the entire 2019 season after suffering a significant knee injury during training camp.

Jordan Reaves can't stand the thought of a second straight year without football.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive end missed the entire 2019 season after suffering a significant knee injury during training camp. The 30-year-old Winnipeg native says he's completely recovered from the ailment and raring to go, hopeful the CFL stages a 2020 campaign.

Commissioner Randy Ambrosie candidly stated Thursday the most likely scenario for the league is a cancelled 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ambrosie made the statement before a House of Commons standing committee on finance after news broke the CFL was seeking up to $150 million in federal government assistance.

"Man, I've just been trying on my cleats wondering which pair to break in first," Reaves said during a telephone interview. "I can't take another year off football, man, this is killing me because I've been trying to get back on that field ever since I got hurt.

"If that happens (season cancelled) I'll be sad, I'll be mad for a bit, I'm sure, just like other players. But at the end of the day I know football is what I love but it's not what defines me . . . I'll be good because I know I have all of my chickens in line, as Marshawn Lynch loves to say."

Reaves is currently living in Huntersville, N.C., with access to a full gym, a huge coup given fitness facilities have all closed due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. That's not only allowed Reaves to effectively rehab but also conduct combine training with young athletes as well as one-on-one positional conditioning.

But probably the most intriguing iron Reaves has in the fire is potentially joining an auto-racing pit crew. Reaves' fiancee Amber Balcaen, a fellow Winnipeg native, became the first Canadian woman to win a NASCAR-sanctioned race in the U.S in 2016.

"I've had a couple of teams recruit me to do pit work with them," said the six-foot-four, 240-pound Reaves. "I didn't actually know this . . . but the pit crews actually recruit directly from D1 and D2 college football teams.

"A pit crew is like a football team, everyone has to work in unison. If one person is out, the whole team fails."

In fact, Reaves said the pit crews' recruitment process is position specific.

"You'll have someone with good hand-eye co-ordination like a receiver or defensive back and they'll be the tire changers," he said. "If you have someone with a little bit bigger frame, like a defensive end or linebacker, they'll be a jack man. That's probably what I'd be.

"And then you have the big defensive tackles or offensive lineman, they'd be moreso the gas guys. I think it all works like a football team so it still has that football feel to it except you're on a car now."

Reaves comes by his athleticism honestly. His father, Willard, was a former star running back with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and his older brother, Ryan, is a forward with the NHL's Vegas Golden Knights.

Reaves hasn't examined the logistics of joining a pit crew because he remains committed to playing football. However, it never hurts to have options in life.

"A good friend of mine here actually works one of the Cup Series cars as a jack man," Reaves said. "Every day I see him he tells me, 'Stop playing football, come do this. They want you, make good money and save your body.'

"Being here I've been able to network with people and keep relationships open so down the line I have something to fall back on, especially if I stay down south."

Given he took up football late in life, Reaves feels he's just scratching the surface in the sport. During his high school years and time at the University of Brandon, Reaves played basketball.

"I didn't play either high school or university football so I missed out on about nine years of some gruelling wear-and-tear on the body," he said. "Even though I'm 30, I feel like I'm in that 25-, 26-year-old position.

"Honestly, I can't give you a number, I can't say how many years I'll play . . . but if my body tells me we can't go anymore, we can't take this banging with offensive linemen or doing kickoff returns that's when it stops."

But after missing all of last season, Reaves he's anxious to return to the field.

"Last year was tough, I didn't know how hard it was going to be," he said. "I was just ready to be that main guy on special teams, I was ready to be a rotational player at defensive end, I was ready to be an impact player. 

"I really thought I could be a big part of this team winning a Grey Cup."

However, being on the outside looking in left Reaves at both ends of the emotional spectrum.

"It was a real roller-coaster," he said. "I'd be really happy to see the boys play one day but there were a couple of games during the season I couldn't watch because I didn't want to see my team playing without me and it hurt.

"Towards the end of the season I kind of got over it. I went back for the playoffs and just to hear the boys and coaches say they missed me, it kind of hit home. But it was hard, one of the hardest things I've ever done."

Saskatchewan (13-5) established itself as a legitimate Cup threat last year, finishing atop the West Division standings. But the promising season ended with 20-13 conference final loss to eventual-champion Winnipeg.

Saskatchewan immediately set its sights on capturing the '20 Grey Cup, which was scheduled to be held at Mosaic Stadium. That dream, though, remains on hold.

"That was kind of our closing message last year," Reaves said. "I hope it doesn't take the wind out of our sails whenever the season returns . . . to keep that drive going.

"If the season doesn't happen, it will definitely hurt not being able to play in front of the greatest fans in the CFL."


This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 11, 2020.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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