The Saskatchewan Roughriders have had a tumultuous off-season since finishing the 2015 season with their worst record since 1999. How could anyone miss the hiring of new coaches and management, the purge of high-profile veteran players, the February free agent splash, the slew of player retirements, and most recently a risk-filled CFL draft. Fans won’t be fully acquainted with all the new personalities in Saskatchewan until at least Labour Day weekend, maybe longer for some. One name you need to get to know is the Riders kicker. I was fortunate enough to be granted about an hour of his time this week and here is what I learned in the spotlight with Tyler Crapigna.
A former Vanier Cup champ with the McMaster Marauders in 2011 and the all-time field goal leader in the CIS with 84, Crapigna was acquired by the Riders via trade with the Calgary Stampeders at the deadline in mid-October last year. That deal saw former GM Brendan Taman send the most productive offensive player on the roster, Jerome Messam, a little further west to a salivating John Hufnagel. In return the Riders received the sure-footed 2014 Calgary draft pick, a negotiation list player, and a third round selection in the 2016 draft (Elie Bouka). It also reunited Crapigna with former Marauder receiver and current Rider fullback Spencer Moore.
The Riders wasted no time de-activating Paul McCallum and placing the kicking duties squarely on the shoulders of the young kicker. Crapigna appeared in his first CFL game last October 23rd which was also the final home contest of the season. McCallum was subsequently released on Dec. 20th, seemingly cementing Crapigna in Saskatchewan as the incumbent for this upcoming season.
The Spotlight With Tyler Crapigna
That was until the Riders drafted another Vanier Cup winning kicker out of the University of British Columbia, Quinn Van Gylswyk, in the third round with the 26th pick overall. Did that action confuse Crapigna in any way?
“I didn’t pay attention to it at all. As a kicker my job is to block out noise and focus on the task at hand which is kicking footballs through those two yellow posts. The only thing I can control is my own performance on the field and that’s what I plan on doing.”
It’s not surprising that he didn’t even watch: that’s focus. His draft day was just two years ago so he knows how Van Gylswyk was feeling. “It was an awesome experience. There is a lot of anticipation leading up to the draft and to finally hear your name called, it was a huge relief. A relief in the sense that now you can finally start your career. Obviously when I got drafted by Calgary, and you look at the two guys they had on their depth chart at the time, it seems like a daunting task. However, I knew I had been drafted for a reason and I knew my talents and preparation over the years would allow me to succeed in that position.”
It’s safe to say the competitive juices will be flowing in training camp. Some players enjoy a healthy competition. They thrive on being pushed to rise above. Others would prefer to clear the deck and have a guarantee from their coaches and management. Ultimate job security. Have I missed a certain type of attitude to competition? What type is the Rider kicker?
“I don’t think there is a third type, it’s either one of the types you mentioned. Ultimately, everyone would love the assurance of being the guy with no competition, but the reality of pro sports is that no one is ever safe. So whether there is someone behind me pushing for my spot or I am home free, I maintain the same mindset and focus. I’ve always been told you’re only as good as your next kick.”
Kickers live and die by that sentiment. We’ve seen many stay or go through their successes and struggles. So who does Crapigna model his game after? “I love the mental strength and technique of Adam Vinatieri and he is probably the one kicker I grew up watching and always wanted to be in those big moments like him. At the end of the day that’s what a kicker wants, is the game on his foot.”
Not shocking for a young man who grew up in a family that idolizes everything Boston. Be it the Bruins, Celtics, or Red Sox — the Crapignas are mad about Beantown. “I am the biggest Bruins fan in or out of Boston. I’ve been to a lot of season and playoff games including both Stanley Cup Finals they went to recently.” That’s also not unusual for an Italian-Canadian living in Southern Ontario. A hockey fan in Southern Saskatchewan is not an abnormality either. He mentioned another sport when I asked him what he likes about the province he gets his kicks in. “In the summertime, I think golfing is my favourite pastime, so I am looking forward to seeing what golf courses in Saskatchewan have to offer.”
Hopefully not in late October if everything works out ideally for the Riders. How excited is he for training camp to get underway in Saskatoon? “I’m super excited, the countless hours spent in the weight room and on the field practicing kicks is finally over and now its time to start the season! I finally have the opportunity to play a full season in the CFL.” Does he have a bike to ride from the dorms to Griffiths Stadium, at the University of Saskatchewan, yet? “I haven’t gotten a bike yet because I know very little about the campus, but it sounds like it’s a long walkn from what people have told me.” Funny stuff. If there are some really nice folks, maybe even a golf cart would be nice? Let’s make it happen, Saskatoon.
He’s been working hard for his game, of course, but also for Rider fans all offseason. What kind of changes has he made if any? “I don’t think that as a pro there are any dramatic changes to a person’s game. I rely on what has gotten me to this point. My focus, consistency and determination are at an all time high. There are little things that you tweak here and there to get a true ball flight and make yourself more comfortable when kicking, but not much has really changed.”
That’s another good thing for this highly accurate upright splitter and the Riders. There were a lot of weeks last year where the desired outcome was not achieved – the understatement of the year, there. Has Crapigna had gotten a sense yet, from the coaches and the management, what the goals are for this season? Does he think the Riders can live up to the widely accepted fan expectations of a 9-9 season? “I think the goals are the same as every year. It’s to win. The coaches and management have assembled a nice roster filled with good veterans and I think it will be a good year. I didn’t even know fans had the expectations of a 9-9 season. I just assumed they wanted us to go 18-0. We will try our best to take every game one at a time and hopefully the end result is what we and our fans wanted to start.”
Crapigna is everything you want in a kicker. Focused, confident, he thrives on pressure, and he’s funny. Very exciting times lie ahead in the kicking department for Crapigna and for the Riders. They have to be the envy of special teams personnel in the league, with two of the best young legs to come along in years.