A fan favourite, and one of the most dynamic receivers in the CFL, Naaman Roosevelt admits he never saw football in his future.
In fact, his six-year-old self was a little afraid of it.
“I just didn’t want to get hit,” Roosevelt said with a bit of a laugh.
“I didn’t want to run into people, I thought that was crazy. I wanted to play basketball and shoot jump shots and be a finesse player and after a while I just started loving hitting people.”
That’s more like the Roosevelt Saskatchewan Roughriders fans know — a receiver willing to sacrifice his body for a catch, make it and shake it off after.
“I don’t know why I just love the contact,” Roosevelt said.
“Like it does something to the defence when you take a big hit and get up and they’re like, ‘Man, you’re not going to go down easy.’”
Of course, playing like that comes with some risk. Just last week, Roosevelt leaped up for a catch and was smashed between two defenders. Last season, he suffered two concussions.
“I try to protect myself, but things happen,” Roosevelt shrugged.
“I know the consequences of this game, I know what happens and I’m just going to keep playing as long as God allows me to play. Hopefully, I can stay injury-free.”
It’s a credit to Roosevelt’s dad, Chris, who brought him to football in the first place and made him stick with it despite his fears of being hit.
As for being in Saskatchewan, perhaps some credit is shared by former Roughriders head coach Danny Barrett and former Rider (current Alouette) quarterback Drew Willy.
“Barrett was our offensive co-ordinator at Buffalo, so that’s when I really learned about it and started watching the game. He was always talking about how he loved it in Saskatchewan and how he played and coached here,” Roosevelt said.
“Then Drew Willy came and I really started watching it and understanding it.”
Given that Barrett and Willy both spent time in Saskatchewan, Roosevelt said he finds it “kind of crazy” he ended up there as well.
The other thing Roosevelt finds a little crazy — that at 30 years old, he is the veteran in the receiving corps.
Three of his 2017 teammates — who he describes as brothers — were sent packing at the start of the season. Riders head coach Chris Jones cut Chad Owens, Rob Bagg and Bakari Grant and caused a bit of a shift in Roosevelt’s role with the team.
Roosevelt said he’s always been a lead-by-example type player, but this year he’s finding himself becoming a little more vocal.
But for his head coach, it’s business as usual.
“Naaman Roosevelt’s always been a great leader, he’s just one of those guys that’s kind of quiet,” Jones said.
“He’s a lot like Rob Bagg was for many years for this team. He’s a guy that just shows up and goes to work. You never have to worry about him off the field and like I say he ends up in the right spot and when you throw him the ball he catches it.”
And more people are watching him catch than ever before – Roosevelt’s family and friends back home in Buffalo now tune in every week on ESPN and see him play.
Roosevelt said it’s exciting that more people are getting familiar with the CFL game.
“I go home and a lot of kids say, ‘I watched that game on ESPN a couple of months ago,’” he smiled.
“Kids are definitely watching it … it’s been fun.”