Former No. 1 draft pick prepares for ’21 with a new look

The 2019 season was both memorable and forgettable for Shane Richards.

The Calgarian was selected by the Toronto Argonauts as the No. 1 overall pick in the CFL Draft, then stunned a group of Argo fans who gathered that night for a draft viewing party by appearing for an on-stage contract signing ceremony.

Everything was pointing toward a brilliant future.

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Richards signs his contract with the Toronto Argonauts after being selected first overall in the 2019 CFL Draft (Argonauts.ca)

But the luster of that evening faded quickly, as he suffered a groin injury during practice the week after the season opener, a game he started. The offensive lineman wouldn’t return to the lineup until late September. He suited up in a backup role, not seeing significant playing time until the season finale.

The injury set back his development and made it impossible for him to stay in game shape. The proof of that came when he climbed onto the scales.

When he reported to training camp with the Argos, he was in the 325-pound range. The pro camp wasn’t the same taxing two-a-day grind he was used to in college at Oklahoma State, so he didn’t drop any weight, like he had expected.

“I think that was the first camp that I put on weight,” Richards recalled in a phone interview from his home in Calgary. “I was caught off guard by that. I was trying to figure out how to drop weight during camp and not be over-exhausted.”

Then came the groin injury that put him even further behind.

“After I got the injury it went into a deeper pit,” he confessed to Argonauts.ca. “I was at my heaviest I think when I was leaving at the end of the season, I think I was at 350, give or take.”

That’s changed. Richards has committed to getting into the best shape of his life by combining his football training with boxing. The sport is improving his footwork, and he’s lost an incredible amount of weight; a whopping 75 pounds.

He hasn’t weighed 275 since he was in grade 10. The “bad” fat is gone, and now he wants to build back up, while maintaining his improved flexibility, and expects to report to training camp in the 310-315 range.

“It’s not like I dropped weight just to drop weight,” he emphasized, adding that his reshaped physique is helping him in the ring, though with COVID-19 it’s not like he’s doing any sparring.

Photo: Oklahoma State Athletics

“I do like being in the ring, a lot,” said Richards. “There’s a lot of crossover between boxing and offensive line play. The mental approach that most good boxers have is pretty much like offensive linemen when it comes to angles and how you want to strike or punch.”

In one aspect, this super-extended off season has allowed him to mentally decompress from football, spend time with his family, and prepare to attack when training camp opens for the Double Blue.

It’s a good thing, because things have changed on the team’s offensive line.

Since the Argos played their last game, the club has added a handful of Canadians to that group. While Tyler Holmes, Ryan Bomben and Sean McEwen are gone, Philip Blake and Dariusz Bladek were signed as free agents; while the club drafted Theren Churchill and Dylan Giffen in the first and third rounds of the 2020 CFL Draft. Jamal Campbell and Maurice Simba return, while 2019 draft pick Eric Starczala joins the team after returning to Guelph for that season.

There’s also another free agency period and another draft to go before training camp opens, hopefully in May. That list doesn’t include several Americans, including starting left tackle Isiah Cage. It’s become a very crowded positional group.

“That’s the name of the game, I know that,” said Richards. “I don’t shy away from competition; I never have, and I never will. I want to win. I’m willing to compete with whoever it is and wherever it is (guard or tackle) and I’m sure they’re going to come in with the same type of attitude. The teams that I’ve been with that have that attitude, especially on the offensive and defensive line, have typically had really good seasons.”

Richards’ love of a good challenge doesn’t surprise Argos Director of Canadian Scouting Vince Magri, part of the player personnel team that used the No. 1 pick on the Oklahoma State product.

“His work ethic and dedication to the game lets us know he can become the player we expect him to become,” Magri told Argonauts.ca in a phone interview. “His physicality and his aggression on the field have always stood out. He had it in training camp and in the pre-season, but the injury set things back. We’re looking forward to seeing him in 2021.”

But where does the big man fit in? He’s played both tackle and guard but admits he prefers playing on the edge.

“We saw in college he had the ability to play both inside and outside,” said Magri, when asked where he saw the Jamaican-born lineman fitting in this year. “He has the talent and the pedigree to push for a starting spot, that’s why we drafted him where we did. You don’t go from the CJFL to a military academy to starting at tackle in the Big 12 by accident.”

Richards suited up in eight games in his rookie season (Argonauts.ca)

The discipline to combine football training and boxing workouts would keep most people busy enough, but Richards’ entrepreneurial spirit has led him to creating a ghost kitchen chicken delivery company called “4corners Wingstop”, which he boasts combines traditional wings with his Jamaican background. He has even developed his own hot sauces.

Yes, you read that correctly. A man who just started his own chicken wing company has lost 75 pounds in just over a year.

Talk about discipline.

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