Zack Evans has waited 200 days for his Grey Cup ring.
Another couple of days won’t make any difference, but the 23-year-old defensive lineman is looking forward to returning to Regina this weekend and collecting his reward for being a member of the Saskatchewan Roughriders squad that defeated the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 45-23 in the Canadian Football League’s championship game last November.
Returning Roughriders players received their rings on May 30, but Evans has been a member of the Ottawa Redblacks since the CFL’s newest team selected him from Saskatchewan’s roster in the December expansion draft.
This Saturday’s preseason contest between the two teams is most significant because it will be the first for the Redblacks, but it will also allow the Roughriders to present rings to Evans, fellow defensive lineman Keith Shologan, offensive linemen James Lee and Brendan Dunn and receivers Aaron Hargreaves and Kierrie Johnson.
“But I probably won’t even bring it back here,” Evans, 23, said Tuesday following the Redblacks’ training-camp sessions at Carleton University. “I’ll just leave it with my wife in Regina. … I don’t want to lose it.”
Evans was a backup in his two seasons with the green Roughriders, meaning he did a lot of scout-team duty during practices.
“So I know their offensive linemen very, very well,” he said. “I know all their keys, I know all their calls, I know everything. It’s going to be awesome, it’s going to be fun. I talked to (Roughriders offensive tackle) Dan Clark, and he’s like, ‘We have to change all our calls because we know that you know exactly what we’re doing at any given moment.’”
Shologan, a starting D-lineman who played in three Grey Cup games in his six seasons with Saskatchewan, also is excited about the ring, but he’s also pumped up at the prospect of playing actual football after two weeks of training-camp.
“Pro football is pro football,” said Shologan, 28. “You get in there and you put your hand down in the dirt, and it’s just football.”
Another hopeful looking forward to Saturday’s contest is 23-year-old receiver Garrett Burgess. He was signed as a free agent in February after completing his five years of Canadian Interuniversity Sport eligibility with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies.
“I think Saturday is going to be extremely exciting,” Burgess said. “I know the atmosphere at Mosaic (Stadium). I grew up there, I went to all the games as a kid. I grew up with the Riders, and to get a chance to go back there and possibly play in front of all those people is pretty wild.
“I’m sure they’ll be booing me, not cheering me, but it’s all right anyway.”
Burgess caught 48 passes for 596 yards and one touchdown for the Huskies in 2013, but he’s just one of 19 wide receivers and slotbacks in Redblacks camp, so, in the big picture, playing well on Saturday will be more important than playing in front of friends and family.
“I just have to do everything I can to give myself the best shot,” Burgess said. “Make the plays I’m supposed to make and just do everything in my power.”
The Redblacks are expected to take about 70 players to Regina for Saturday’s game, and there were 82 still on the roster as of Tuesday morning.
Head coach Rick Campbell said who will make the trip will be settled on Thursday and that it was doubly important for the first-year Redblacks to see as many players as possible in live action.
“We definitely have to get a good look because we have to cut down (the roster) after that game, the next day,” Campbell said. “We have to make sure we get a good evaluation and make good decisions.”
CFL rosters must be down to 65 players as of Sunday, but that doesn’t include recent draft picks, of which the Redblacks have 11, so their effective limit is 76.