They say that December is the ‘Most Wonderful Time of the Year” but for B.C. Lions Director of U.S. Scouting Ryan Rigmaiden the start of training camp in May is pretty close.
“I’ve said it’s like Christmas morning for years and years and I don’t think that’s ever going to change. With all the research we do, with all the film and all the interviews, you truly don’t know what you have until they get on that CFL field,” said Rigmaiden, now in his second tour of duty with the Lions after being with the organization from 2014 through 2017 before leaving for a post with the Winnipeg Bluebombers.
“We may have players that we’ve been chasing for two or three years that have been on our protected list, you recruit them and you sign them and you finally get them up here and then you discover that they’re not who you thought they were. But there’s also the pleasant surprise of somebody that you might have been lukewarm about. You’re a little unsure about them when you sign them, and how they were going to fit. And then all of a sudden, day three of camp, they pop and their ascension just goes through the roof.”
Rigmaiden’s job has got a lot tougher the last few years.
With the arrival of the USFL and XFL, CFL teams now have to compete for those players that can’t make the cut in the NFL.
“You’ve got challenges every year. Part of that is recruiting and informing people what this league is and how great it is. But for the most part I think the success of our league speaks for itself. You’re trying to convince them that Canada’s a good option for him. Fortunately, our league has had tremendous success with players not only having a great career here, but also making the jump to the NFL. Obviously, we had Nathan (Rourke) this last year and he made that great jump and then Cameron Wake made an incredible jump as well,” Rigmaiden explained.
Rigmaiden ‘s job requires exhausting all possible avenues in trying to find players. There are long days on the road away from his family in the never-ending quest to find talent.
“In the fall, you’re doing college stuff, just like NFL scouts. You’re going to universities and schools and doing all the interviews and watching tape. Then in the winter, you’re going to the all-star games, and then you start shifting gears with the CFL draft. Then we do our own workouts that we’ve been running for years with tremendous success. And then you’ve got a little bit of off time right at the tail end of our training camp. We basically get four weeks before we go to NFL training camps in July and August and the cycle begins again. There are very, very few days off You’re usually going to be on the road for about 100 to 130 days a year,” stated Rigmaiden, who is based out of North Carolina.
When it comes to recruiting talent, Rigmaiden not only looks for athleticism and potential but character as well.
“We want to bring in the best football players that are smart and that have grit and toughness. Obviously, the athletic traits are a huge part of what we do. But you’re trying to find great athletes that are great human beings off the field, great human beings in the locker room.
“You see a guy’s athleticism on tape but how do you find out about the intangibles? That’s where the investigative process of being a scout is. You obviously talk to their coaches and teammates but some of the best sources that you can find are the support staff. You talk to the equipment guy or you talk to the trainer. If I find out the player is rude to them or is disrespectful to them, that tells me a lot of things. That’s a huge red flag if you’re not going to be courteous to the people that are directly taking care of you. That tells me everything that I need to know about your character.”
Getting a player into camp is one thing, then it’s up to the player to impress the Lions coaching staff that he deserves a spot on the team.
Sometimes that process is a difficult one.
Rigmaiden may have been tracking a player for a couple of years, then signs him only to watch that player have a few bad practices in camp and be on the chopping block. He has to convince coaches that there is more there.
“I think there’s always a balance of winning now and building for the future. Philosophically, if your coaching staff and the personnel staff are in lock step, I think you always find that that balance, but you’re right. There are times where we’ve been tracking the player for two or three years and I’ve seen them in NFL camps and in college and I think they’ve got starting calibre ability and for whatever reason they come out here and they’re just not showing it yet. There are discussions in those meeting rooms of hey, who to who do we think this guy is now and who do we think he’s going to be next year and maybe over the next two years of his contract?”
As much as Rigmaiden loves his job, there is one part of it that is extremely difficult – telling a player that he’s been cut.
“It’s personally devastating. Both for me and for the player. I’m going be telling a young man that’s been working as hard as he has that the dream is over for right now. It’s very, very difficult. There’s a lot of emotions. It’s the least favorite thing that I do with this job. You try to be as honest as you can about the evaluation process of what you saw. We just cut 10 players a few nights ago and there were a lot of tears involved. These guys have been working so hard to get to this spot and, and the results didn’t turn out how they wanted for either of us. So, it’s a devastating part of this business,” notes Rigmaiden.
There will be more tears shed in the coming weeks as the Lions pare down their roster as they get set for their season opener in Calgary on June 8 but for Rigmaiden, there will also be the satisfaction of watching a player he recruited make the team.
Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media. And check out his weekly podcast every Monday at Today in B.C. or your local Black Press Media website.