Matt Vonk’s opportunity to shine has been a long time coming.
Although his first career starts are coming with the Riders due to the injuries of his veteran offensive linemates, he’s ready to embrace the job he’s been given.
Vonk was drafted by the Roughriders in the fifth round of the 2013 CFL draft. He played his first game in 2014 and dressed as a backup here and there after that.
Three years later – after a long and mostly patient wait – he’s going into his second start Friday against Edmonton.
“I know I’ve had some frustrating times,” Vonk said. “Last year I saw the field a little bit more and now my opportunity finally came and now I just got to relish it and make sure I don’t give it up.”
As he prepared for this time he had help along the way from veteran players like Xavier Fulton, Brendon LaBatte and Dan Clark. Fulton said Vonk’s greatest asset is his mind – and that he’s filled three notebooks full of information to study.
“He’s very, very book smart. He’s come a very long way, he’s a student of the game,” Fulton said. “He’s just that kind of guy that he has to know every detail (and) that’s helped him out a long way. He’s playing well beyond his years just because of his study habits and just his character.”
“You got to treat every week like you’re a starter,” Vonk said when asked about his notebooks. “I tore my knee in training camp but I treated every day like I’m a starter, so I prepared like that so when it comes to the time when you are a starter, it’s not a big deal.”
He also had some frank discussions with Clark about waiting for your time to come. Clark was signed the Roughriders as a free agent in 2009, but didn’t have his first start until 2014.
“Vonk and I have had tremendous conversations about patience and things will come and just support everything that is going on around, but make sure you’re prepared to go in there and do your job,” Clark said.
Vonk said he wouldn’t be the player he is today without the guidance of his older linemates. He said skills he learned from Fulton and LaBatte have help take him from a raw rookie, to someone who can “block these big guys out there”.
Now with his notebooks filled and all the advice taken to heart, he’s ready to help the team turn the ship around and get on the winning track.
There are two things that will help, according to Vonk. The first is “keeping the running backs running” and the second is keeping Durant upright.
“If we keep Darian free, we’re going to do well,” he said.
The offensive line struggled to do that against Hamilton, when Durant was sacked four times, but the Rider offensive line said they’ve looked at that and are ready to focus on Edmonton.
Fortunately, Vonk will be well supported with the return of Fulton, who has been moved off the six-game injured list and will take his spot back as the left tackle. Clark, Thaddeus Coleman and Marcus Hall round out the offensive line starters.
Vonk said the team knows they’re close to a break through and remain optimistic of what the next few weeks can bring.
“I feel like, a lot of things that could have gone wrong have gone that way. So I think that it’s time for the tide to start turning.”
The 1-7 Roughriders square off against the 4-4 Edmonton Eskimos at 8pm on TSN. The CJME 10-hour Game Day begins at 3 p.m.