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Saskatchewan Roughriders receivers Bane Jr., Emilus aim to build on breakout seasons

If Monday’s 65-yard catch-and-run in the first quarter against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers was any indication, Saskatchewan Roughriders wide receiver Shawn Bane Jr. is feeling regular-season ready.

It’s a place of confidence and support he’s been fighting for his entire professional career.

“I’ve been grinding for a very long time,” said Bane Jr. “To have this opportunity and people believe in you, I can’t even really put it into words.”

Bane Jr. is entering the 2024 season as one of the most productive receivers in the league, as the Roughriders have quickly turned their wide-out corps into one of the deepest in the CFL.

Blowing past his previous career highs of 288 yards and one touchdown, Bane Jr. exploded for 1,104 yards in the air and four touchdowns in 2023.

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In the process, he formed a two-headed monster alongside fellow aerial weapon Samuel Emilus who also had a breakout campaign with 1,097 yards and six touchdowns in just his second professional season.

Now with a healthy Kian Schaffer-Baker rounding out the top of the receiving corps, it’s a group that Emilus has plenty of faith in.

“We got a great group of receivers,” said Emilus. “We got a great foundation with me, Bane and Schaffer-Baker. We just have to bring the other guys in around us and do our thing.”

In 2023, Emilus tied for fourth in the CFL in receiving touchdowns. He also tied the Roughriders’ franchise record with three touchdown receptions against the Blue Bombers in their Week 2 matchup last season.

Click to play video: 'Fans press new Saskatchewan Roughriders coach Mace, team brass at State of the Nation'

Fans press new Saskatchewan Roughriders coach Mace, team brass at State of the Nation

Bane Jr. elevated his game to become a number one option after two seasons as a depth option with the Calgary Stampeders.

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“Sam is a dog and he also works on his craft,” said Bane Jr. “Knowing that I have him on the other side of the ball, you’re going to have to pick your poison this year in this offence because we got a lot of guys who can go get it.”

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Roughriders head coach Corey Mace saw firsthand what the duo was capable of last year as defensive coordinator with the Toronto Argonauts and said there’s even more to unlock in 2024 when it comes to their skillset.

“I’m really excited to see them grow as professionals from last year’s performance into what they look like this year to be a more complete player,” said Mace.

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With the trio of Emilus, Schaffer-Baker and Bane Jr. returning in green and white this summer, it’s yet to be determined if there will be a clear-cut number-one receiver that will receive a majority of the targets from starting quarterback Trevor Harris.

Emilus said he isn’t concerned about who will be getting more tosses  – it’s simply about who will step up to make the big play.

“I don’t really count on being number one, to be honest,” said Emilus. “I just want to help the team win and when the plays are coming my way I got to just make it.”

Saskatchewan’s depth chart at wide receiver is expected to be rounded out by a handful of returning faces including Brayden Lenius, Jerreth Sterns, Mitch Picton and potentially one or two rookies with Ajou Ajou and KeeSean Johnson among those throwing their names into the mix.

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Mace said he expects to see more big plays through the air this season but emphasizes responsibility away from the ball ahead of the Roughriders’ pre-season finale in Edmonton on Saturday.

“We all know they can catch the ball,” said Mace. “The intangibles… when I spoke to them when I first got the job (I asked) ‘Are you going to be accountable when you’re not asked to catch the ball?’ Doing all the extra things, blocking not only the (defensive backs) but coming down tight blocking the box.”

“In practice, they’ve shown to do that, I’ve been very pleased with how they’ve approached that from that standpoint.”

It’s a philosophy that’s being embraced by Emilus and his teammates, especially since the Roughriders’ receivers will be blocking and protecting one of the CFL’s most productive running backs from last season.

“We got A.J. Ouellette as a running back so we’re going to have to block for him,” said Emilus. “We know how explosive he can be, how many big plays he can bring for the team.”

When asked where he can go this season after such a stellar 2023 campaign, Bane Jr. said the only direction is up. He aims to lead Saskatchewan back into the playoff picture for the first time since 2021.

“It’s a bunch of small things that will make big plays in the future,” Bane Jr. said. “If we can do that, we can run up the points on the scoreboard.”

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The Roughriders will wrap up the CFL pre-season on Saturday at 2 p.m. in Edmonton against the Elks.

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