LIVESTREAM: CFL Season Opener – Saskatchewan Roughriders @Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Thurs., June 13, 7p EDT (1a CEDT June 14)

HAMILTON — For Zach Collaros, there was no tiptoeing around it.

As the Saskatchewan Roughriders get set to battle the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Tim Hortons Field, their quarterback is quick to acknowledge that this isn’t just any regular season opener.

For CFL fans, Thursday marks the beginning of a brand new season. For Collaros, it’s that, and also the first time taking on his former team.

“I’d be lying to you if I said there wasn’t some sort of significance,” he told Riderville.com. “There definitely is. I spent a good block of my career there and I have some great memories.”

Depth Charts: SSK | HAM

Roughly a year and a half after being traded, Collaros has plenty of ties to Southern Ontario, where he still lives with his wife and family. He’s also got plenty of close friends with the Ticats after spending four seasons and playing 44 games with the organization.

On Thursday it all comes full circle, and despite a forgettable first season in green, both his teammates and opponents know what he’s capable of.

“Zach’s a competitor,” said Orlondo Steinauer, who will coach his first game for the Ticats since taking over for June Jones, who stepped down as head coach before leaving for the XFL. “When healthy I think he’s one of the better ones in the league. He presents a lot of challenges. He’s mobile, he’s got a very strong arm, they’re not afraid to throw it down the field.”

“He’s brought toughness and leadership,” echoed Riders head coach Craig Dickenson. “The guys are looking up to him and following his lead. Just an air of professionalism, he’s done a good job.”

For the two rookie head coaches, kickoff can’t come soon enough.

Coming off an eight-win season, the Ticats are considered by many a heavy favourite to win the CFL East Division. Consistency often eluded them in 2018, but the emergence of Jeremiah Masoli and one of the league’s top offences flashed absolute brilliance at times.

This year Tommy Condell takes over as the new offensive coordinator, while Receiver Jalen Saunders and running back Alex Green were released before the start of camp. National offensive lineman Chris Van Zeyl will be the team’s starting right tackle.

“We’re not worried about last year, this is just a whole new season, brand new start,” said Masoli. “We’ve got a renewed mindset. We are playing together, we’ve got each other’s backs and have a lot of good personalities in the locker-room. We’ve been meshing pretty well.”

Masoli, who took the starting quarterback reins from Collaros in 2017 and never looked back, was the East Division Most Outstanding Player last year. He led the entire league with 9.1 yards per passing attempt and all quarterbacks with 7.5 yards per rush.

The weapons around Masoli are impressive. Brandon BanksBralon Addison and Luke Tasker will be central figures on offence, joined by Canadian running back Sean Thomas-Erlington, whose versatility has earned him an important role out of the gate.

“He gets overlooked because of his size, but he’s a physical dude,” said Masoli. “He’s a nice guy, he’s a really nice guy. But he is a physical guy when that whistle blows and in between the snaps, he can get physical and block big linebackers.”

On the defensive side of the ball, new coordinator Mark Washington, in for Jerry Glanville, will try to dial up more pressure after the team ranked second-last in the league with 31 sacks in 2018. The additions of Ja’Gared Davis and Dylan Wynn will make Washington’s job easier.

“With Ja’Gared you have a champion,” said Steinauer. “Any time you add that to any part of your football team, that’s beneficial. Dylan Wynn is tenacious, he’s not taking any plays off. Those are two nice additions. On paper we like it.”

Missing from the defensive line is Adrian Tracy, who was added to the one-game injured list and will be replaced by Julian Howsare. Running back Cameron Marshall was added to the six-game, setting up an all-Canadian backfield. American lineman Ryker Mathews, who’s back from the NFL, is getting used to a new position at left tackle.

After a wild off-season that saw unparalleled movement, ‘on paper’ has become a common term going into the season. On Thursday night, though, none of that will matter.

“Really just want to kick the ball off,” said Steinauer. “We’re prepared, ready to go and I feel like everybody’s been talked to death. It’s time to play the game.”

For the Riders, Collaros wasn’t their first choice this off-season — the team pursued other top quarterbacks on the market like Bo Levi MitchellMike Reilly and Trevor Harris — but there’s still plenty of belief in the current starter.

Back for a second season, Collaros will look to stay healthy after missing two stretches of games throughout 2018, and also build more chemistry with his young receivers including Kyran Moore, KD Cannon and Shaq Evans.

For Dickenson, who will coach his first game after taking over for Chris Jones, the Riders need to help their quarterback be successful.

“I don’t believe a quarterback can carry a team year in and year out,” he said. “I think Zach can be an elite quarterback if he brings work ethic and toughness and the guys around him give him some chances to succeed by giving him time and doing a good job getting off the ball.”

William Powell was a significant off-season addition for the Riders. The 31-year-old was a workhorse for the REDBLACKS last season, falling just shy of a rushing title behind Andrew Harris. He’ll team up with Marcus Thigpento form one of the CFL’s top rushing duos.

“We’re gonna split it up a little bit because we’ve got two good ones in Thiggy and in Powell,” said Dickenson. “William will get the majority of carries no doubt, and when Thiggy comes in he’ll be a change of pace back. It’s similar to a thunder and lightning, where you’ve got your downhill runner and change of pace guy. We’d like to use them both quite a bit if we can.”

For all their offensive struggles last year, the Riders ranked second in the league in rushing yards with 111.9 yards per game.

“It sets up a lot of things if you can run the football,” said Collaros. “It dictates to the defence what they can and can’t do. For me personally, any time you can dictate what they’re doing, the better. Running the football adds to that.”

Off-season additions Solomon Elimimian and Emmanuel Arceneaux are both out for the Riders, while offensive lineman Brendon LaBatte has been added to the six-game injured list along with receiver Patrick Lavoie.

Defensive tackle Micah Johnson, who ranked among the league’s top free agents before signing with Saskatchewan, will make his debut after missing the pre-season.

On Tuesday the league announced that kickoff would be moved up half an hour to 7 p.m. ET to accommodate the Toronto Raptors’ Game 6 matchup with the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.

By the Numbers: 

1 – Career start for Zach Collaros against Hamilton, which came back in October of 2013.

3 – Years in a row the Riders have increased their win total, leading to a 12-6 record in 2018.

5 – Saskatchewan’s current winning streak over the Ticats. Since 2004, the Riders are 23-7 (.767) vs. Hamilton.

11 – Defensive touchdowns scored by the Riders in 2018, tying a CFL record with the 1987 BC Lions.

12 – Games of 300-plus passing yards for Jeremiah Masoli last season, two short of the league record in a single year.

15 – The number of first-year players on the Ticats’ roster, more than any other club in the CFL.

28.2 – The Riders’ average age, the oldest in the CFL. The league average going into 2019 is 27.3 years of age.

AFI, Yare Media and the CFL

American Football International is collaborating with Yare Media and the Canadian Football League to present 2019 CFL games live. This is more than a livestream. This is a stream of the top flight TSN network television broadcast.

LIVE STREAM: CFL – Saskatchewan Roughriders @Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Thurs., June 13, 7p EDT (1a CEDT June 14)

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