Naaman Roosevelt has found his comfort zone as a slot receiver in the Canadian Football League.
The former Bills wideout and University at Buffalo great has posted consecutivev 1,000-yard receiving seasons for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He’s back for a fourth season with the Riders this year as one of the team’s top offensive weapons.
“For me, it’s like playing back yard football up here,” Roosevelt, 30, said by phone from his team’s practice facility in Regina. “Coach does a good job telling me whatever I do make sure I’m at the spot. Whatever I need to do to get open.”
“With the space on the CFL field, you can either go in or out, there’s so much opportunity. It’s almost like I’m playing basketball out there. I can get cross-overs and do lots of stuff to get open.”
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Roosevelt ranks seventh in the CFL in receiving yards over the past two seasons. He had 1,095 yards on 76 catches in 2016 and was named Saskatchewan’s most outstanding player. He had 1,035 yards on 75 catches last year and was named a CFL West Division all-star.
A former St. Joe’s prep star quarterback, Roosevelt still is UB’s career receiving leader. He helped the Bulls to their only Mid-American Conference championship in 2008. He made the Bills’ roster in 2010 and 2011, catching 25 passes combined in those seasons. His big highlight was a 60-yard catch-and-run TD from Ryan Fitzpatrick against the Giants in 2011.
After bouncing around NFL practice squads the next two years, Roosevelt made the move in 2014 to the CFL, where his short-area quickness is ideal in working the middle of the league’s 65-yard wide field.
Plus, he loves the “waggle,” the receiver’s ability to take a running start toward the line of scrimmage before the snap.
“With a waggle when you’re already starting 10 yards back before the ball is snapped, that’s such an advantage. You’re running full-speed to the line,” he said. “It’s been great for me. It’s a passing league, so as a receiver I love it.”
Saskatchewan went 10-8 last season and lost in the CFL semifinals to eventual Grey Cup champion Toronto.
This year, the West Division is considered a close race among three teams – Calgary, Edmonton and Saskatchewan.
The Roughriders were 1-1 heading into Saturday’s home game against Montreal, which features Roosevelt’s old UB quarterback, Drew Willy, who is approaching the 10,000-yard career passing mark in the CFL. UB product Ernest Jackson is one of Willy’s receivers.
“Making it to the playoffs and having that experience was the best time of my career,” Roosevelt said. “It was my first time playing in a playoff game. And that’s our motivation this year, to get to the Grey Cup. I feel this year our team is even better.”
Saskatchewan lost starting quarterback Zach Collaros to a concussion in its last game. But veteran backup Brandon Bridge saw action in 12 games last year and threw for 1,236 yards, so Roosevelt says he’s not concerned about a dropoff.
Roosevelt spends April to November in Regina, then comes back to Buffalo for the offseason.
“Regina’s kind of a city like Buffalo,” Roosevelt said. “It’s a great city. The people are nice. It’s real chill, real relaxed. There’s nothing around it – outside of the city – just farmland. There’s nothing else. There’s no mountains, it’s all flat. You can see for miles and miles.”
Roosevelt looks forward to Riders games in Toronto and Hamilton, where it’s easy for his family to attend. His father, Chris, was a great athlete for Grover Cleveland High School.
The Roughriders visit Hamilton in Week 6 on July 19 and come to Toronto in Week 15 on Sept. 22.
“I’ve got to get about 20 tickets every time we go there,” he said. “They all want to come.”
Roosevelt is hoping for more good years in the CFL.
“I’ll see how far I can take it,” he said. “My early years with the Bills, I was only playing here and there. So I haven’t gotten that wear and tear on the body like a lot of people do. I’m probably really about 26 or 27.”
Story topics: Naaman Roosevelt