“When I was here I felt like I had some unfinished business to take care of back here in Saskatchewan so an opportunity arose where I could come back here (and) I jumped at it,” said Messam, who signed a free agent contract in February.
The running back’s first stint with the Riders coincided with the team’s downswing after its 2013 Grey Cup victory. The following year was Messam’s first season in Saskatchewan, and the Riders finished 10-8 before losing to the Edmonton Eskimos in the Canadian Football League (CFL) West Semifinal.
The bottom fell out the next year, when the Riders missed the playoffs after winning just three games. Late in the year Messam was dealt to the Calgary Stampeders, helping them reach the Grey Cup game that season and again in 2017.
While Messam was in Calgary, the Riders were rebuilding under head coach, general manager and president of football operations Chris Jones, who was hired following the dismal 2015 campaign. Now Messam has returned to a team that fell one win shy of the Grey Cup last season and he’s hoping to be one of the final pieces of a championship puzzle.
“For them to get as far as they did last year after having the season that they did (in Jones’) first year, it’s just a testament to his evil genius and his mastermind, because you know people were up in arms when he first got to Riderville but now they kinda see the product coming to his vision,” Messam said.
At 33, the Toronto native is the CFL’s second-oldest running back, a position where most players’ production typically drops significantly after age 30. But so far Messam has shown no signs of slowing down. He rushed for over 1,000 yards for a third straight season in 2017 and has his sights set on winning the Riders’ number one job.
Being Canadian doesn’t hurt his cause either. If Messam starts for Saskatchewan, it means the team can plug an American player into a different spot in the lineup where a Canadian might typically play.
“It’s a little bit different for me,” he admitted. “I’m a Canadian so hopefully I can secure my job and my place on the team and get the starting spot.”
The Riders running back competition is one of the more intriguing battles at training camp this year.
Cameron Marshall, whose 543 yards led the team in 2017, was released just prior to camp. Former NFLer Trent Richardson, who came to Saskatchewan late last season, has yet to report and is not expected to return. Marcus Thigpen, another mid-season addition last year who came up big in the playoffs, is suspended for the first two games of the season after testing positive for a banned substance.
All that means is there are opportunities for someone to step up. Aside from Messam, another candidate is Zac Stacy. The 27-year-old Alabama product spent time in the NFL with the St. Louis Rams and New York Jets and ended a year-long retirement for a chance to earn a spot with the Riders.
Stacy believes he has the full skill set required of a running back in Jones’ system.
“That’s what pretty much got me drafted back in ’13 to the NFL, the ability to block and be versatile out of the backfield catching routes, so for me I just want to keep that same mentality. Keep that same mentality and try to find a role,” he said.
The backfield battle has officially begun and the first chance to see it play out in a live-fire situation will be when the Riders visit the Edmonton Eskimos for their first pre-season game on May 27.