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New Roughriders head coach Mace receives standing ovation at ‘State of the Nation’ event

Saskatchewan Roughriders head coach Corey Mace received a warm reception at SMF Field in Saskatoon on Saturday afternoon, where he was given a standing ovation during his first ‘State of the Nation’ address to fans.

It was a new experience for Mace who was grilled with questions from fans young and old, including one where he was asked what CFL rival he fears the most.

“Oh man, who do I fear the most?” Mace said after some thought. “Probably the Saskatchewan Roughriders.”

Saturday’s ‘State of the Nation’ kicked off Green & White Day for the Roughriders, which included a public practice and scrimmage at SMF Field and community celebrations throughout the afternoon.

The panel in front of a packed room for the address included Mace, president and CEO Craig Reynolds and general manager Jeremy O’Day, who answered questions for the better part of an hour as the Roughriders prepare to play their first pre-season game on Monday against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

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While questions varied from the race for the backup quarterback position to how the team will take the field this summer, many focused on Mace’s first training camp and his adjustment to becoming a CFL head coach.

Click to play video: 'Saskatchewan Roughriders looking for contributions from key off-season signings'

Saskatchewan Roughriders looking for contributions from key off-season signings

“We’re driving down the highway and there’s a huge billboard with [Mace’s] face on it,” O’Day said. “I said, ‘You haven’t lost a game yet. They’ll take that down so fast, that thing will come down.’”

Even with the ribbing from his general manager, Mace has embraced the attention coming and said it’s going to be a collective effort between players, coaches and fans to get the Roughriders back into contention.

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“We will do this thing together,” Mace said. “What I mean is, it’s not just us up here and it’s not just the guys that you’re going to see, it’s going to be the entire province.”

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The pro-Riders crowd, however, did deliver a few pointed questions to Saskatchewan management following two straight 6-12 seasons, which has resulted in two seasons on the outside of the CFL playoff picture.

O’Day pointed to the aggressive work that was done over the off-season to transform the team, including the signings of free agents A.J. Ouellette, Jameer Thurman and Jermarcus Hardrick, among others.

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“Everything we do is to improve the team,” O’Day said. “It’s not acceptable to have records like that. At a minimum you have to be a playoff team every year. When you do that, you have the opportunity to win Grey Cups.”

Overcoming adversity has been a major hurdle for Saskatchewan over the past two seasons, which included a season-ending injury to starting quarterback Trevor Harris last summer and a combined 0-14 record post-Labour Day going back to 2022.

Mace said that’s been a point of focus for the team throughout training camp.

“We’re going to get scored on,” Mace said. “We’re going to be put in situations and sometimes I want to see how the guys are naturally going to handle that. That’s adversity, that’s football and you got two options… bounce back or bounce backwards.”

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From a league perspective, Reynolds believes the CFL is in “outstanding shape” heading into the 2024 season and is enjoying stable ownership from coast to coast.

However, he did touch on the controversy surrounding the Toronto Argonauts organization following the CFL handing down a minimum nine-game suspension to star quarterback Chad Kelly for violating the league’s gender-based violence policy and his recent appearance at Argonauts training camp despite the suspension.

Reynolds did not want to comment on another team’s internal protocols, but praised the work the Roughriders have done in that space over the past decade.

“I look inwardly and I look at our organization,” Reynolds said. “I’m very proud of the work that we do in our organization and I’m very proud in terms of how I know we would handle situations. I’m very proud of the process, the people and the leaders that we have involved in our organization.

Preparing for Monday’s pre-season opener at home, Mace added he’s eager to see what he’s got in his squad in game action from the quarterback room and out.

“Everything is roses right now,” Mace said. “We’ll see what it’s like when the bullets are flying.”

Kickoff for the Roughriders’ pre-season opener against the Blue Bombers is set for 2 p.m. on Monday at Mosaic Stadium.

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