Most of the time when we talk about athletes off the field it’s about big contracts, egos, substance abuse, bar fights and suspensions. Well not today folks, I want to tell you about a hometown kid who is living a dream and sharing it with the youth of this province. Neal Hughes, the 11 year vet, is the longest serving member of the Saskatchewan Roughriders and one its biggest assets. One day last week I ran into Neal leaving Mosaic stadium and we chatted about his frustrating season and how much he’s missing the game. In typical Hughes fashion he quickly deflected the attention to me and asked if I was coaching football. Du bofc I mentioned that I was in my first year as head coach of the Pee Wee Razorbacks. “The Razorbacks, that’s my team, it’s where my football journey started” he exclaimed! Well much to my delight, Neal agreed to come out and say a few words and take a picture with the boys.
Two days later he arrived at our practice field in north Regina and what happened next had a lasting effect on thirty-four kids and one grateful coach. Hughes brought his 2 Grey Cup rings and let the kids and parents try them on while he told us about his football life. He spoke for 45 minutes and took pictures with every kid and parent at that field. Neal’s football journey started with a lie!! He had to forge his mom’s signature on the registration form because his parents wouldn’t let him play. One day after being “lit up” in practice, he came home with tears in his eyes. He was done with football, the kids were just too big and tough. One problem, Hughes forgot to take off his equipment before walking into the house. His secret was out, and Neal’s parents were mad. He told them not worry because football wasn’t his thing and he was quitting. Neal’s dad said, “ You are not, no son of mine is a quitter! I’ll teach you how to tackle.” Each night after practice, father and son would line up in the trenches in their north Regina basement and go at it. I think I speak for all Rider fans when I say thank you Mr. Hughes for stopping your son from packing in his football dream. He is the poster child for prairie football: dedicated, determined, dependable. On a late summer night, with no fan fare or appearance fee, number 32 of the Riders inspired a youth football team.
Did you know? Neal Hughes is 1 of only 5 players to win 2 Grey Cups with the Riders. The others are Chris Getzlaf, Darian Durant, John Chick and Mike McCullough. Speaking of McCullough, Mike, Dave Thomas and I have an internet football show called View From the Sidelines. Make sure you check it out at the top of the page in the audio/video vault.
Enjoy the Labour Day Classic. I have the Riders by 10.