Last Saturday, Sept. 10, Saskatchewan Roughriders rookie offensive lineman Kooper Richardson got to live out his childhood dream as his Riders took on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Banjo Bowl.
The game was Richardson’s first start as a professional football player.
“It’s everything you want as a kid and more. I grew up a coach’s kid, I’ve been around the game since I was born, I was a ball boy growing up,” Richardson explained.
“To be able to be out here on a professional stage and getting my first start, it’s really what you dream of as a kid.”
For any rookie earning their first career start there are bound to be nerves, especially playing in an inhospitable environment such as your archrival’s stadium.
Richardson’s “butterflies”, however, turned out to be much more serious than usual.
Multiple members of the team and staff were dealing with a serious stomach bug before kickoff that swept through the team’s locker room. Among the most affected were Richardson and his fellow offensive lineman, who did everything within their power just to make in on to the field.
“Everything from getting an IV, 40 minutes before the game, to the worst feeling I’ve ever had,” he said. “Unfortunately for me I got it on game day, so I was in the middle of the sickness when the game was going on.
“Crazy way to get your first start.”
Richardson wasn’t just battling illness as he stepped into the trenches. His first start was a baptism by fire of sort, being tasked with protecting his quarterback from two of the best defensive ends in the CFL, Jackson Jeffcoat and Willie Jefferson.
“Talk about a crazy way to get your first start, against those two great (defensive) ends,” he admitted. “(But), you do have to worry about the sickness and your minds going a lot of different places, because you’re trying to figure out not only how you’re going to block these great (defensive) ends, but how you’re going to make it through the game.”
The herculean effort from the very sick group earned the praises of both his head coach and quarterback.
“He was one of the guys that was sick before the game and he came out there,” Riders head coach Craig Dickenson said. “I don’t think he allowed a sack and I’m not sure he allowed a pressure, so he did a good job.”
“It started with walking into the locker room and it looked like a triage in there,” quarterback Cody Fajardo said post-game on Saturday. “The amount of guys that were sick, throwing up, coming out both ends, it was pretty ridiculous.
“I have a lot of heart for those guys, our entire offensive line … they went out there — they were giving them IVs just to get them out on the field, we didn’t have anything else to do — there’s a lot of guys that gutted that game out.”
The one positive that came out of the sickness was it partially quashed Richardson’s nerves as he didn’t have time to worry about the magnitude of the moment.
“It probably did just because my mind probably on the sickness a little more than it should have been, but you know, it’s how it happened,” he said.