A month into the Canadian Football League season, Johnstown’s Geroy Simon is preparing for his own version of opening day.
The CFL’s all-time leader in receiving yardage anxiously is awaiting his debut with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who opened the schedule with three consecutive wins as Simon contended with a hamstring injury suffered during an exhibition contest.
“I’m just really excited to get out here and play in front of these fans and for this organization,” Simon said during a Thursday telephone interview. “Saskatchewan has been a huge rival for me and the BC Lions for a long time and now that I’m a member of their team and have an opportunity to play, it’s something I’m really excited about. These fans are the best fans in the CFL.”
Saskatchewan will play the visiting Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Sunday.
Simon joined the Roughriders amid much CFL hoopla in January, when the British Columbia Lions – the team on which he won two Grey Cups and earned the league’s Most Outstanding Player Award – traded Simon to rival Saskatchewan. The deal had been expected as both the Lions and Simon were ready to head in different directions after the 2012 season.
Simon, 37, is a veteran in his 15th CFL season. His 15,787 career receiving yards are the most in the league’s history. With 11 more receptions, he’ll have 1,000 career catches to go with his 100 career receiving touchdowns.
“He’s an experienced guy who understands the coverages, and he asks very good questions in meetings about how we want to do this and why we’re doing things,” Roughriders offensive coordinator George Cortez said after a midweek practice in comments that appeared on the team website. “He gives the quarterbacks confidence that he knows what’s going on. By the same token, he hasn’t played in a while either. I’m sure that he’s looking forward to getting back on the field. He probably has that first-game excitement level.”
The Greater Johnstown High School graduate and University of Maryland product had a difficult time watching as his new team rolled to three straight wins. But Simon credited the Roughriders’ training staff for making sure he was ready to play again and preventing him from rushing back to the field.
“I played so well here against them, and now that I have the opportunity to play for them getting injured in a preseason game and being out for the first three weeks of the season is pretty tough,” Simon said. “It’s tough to sit back and watch. We’ve had a lot of success. The team is 3-0 and the offense has been playing really well. I know I can be another key to this offense.”
Simon said he might have returned to the lineup prematurely two weeks ago had he not been under the watchful eyes of the Roughriders’ staff.
“It took me about two weeks before I was able to run. Right now I’m probably 95 percent,” he said. “I can’t say I’m 100 percent but I’m really close. I can run full speed and I can cut both ways without any trouble. It’s a matter of getting my body back in game shape. It was a process. The good thing is that these trainers and doctors know what they’re doing and they really take the time to make sure you’re ready to go.”
Last week, Simon had yet another reason to wish he was back on the field.
A group of former Johnstown High teammates traveled to Toronto in hopes of seeing Simon play against the Argonauts. All-state quarterback Brian Mangiafico and star receiver Mario Hardison supported their former teammate. Eddie Sprangle and Chuck Palasick were among the former Trojans players in attendance, Simon said.
“They came up to the game in Toronto, so not being able to play was a bummer,” Simon said. “But I was able to spend some time with those guys. It was good to see those guys.”
He said another Johnstown group, including former coach Tom Fleming, is expected to attend next week’s game in Hamilton.
“I’m just excited to get back on the field. I’ve been injured the beginning of this year,” Simon said. “The end of last year I was injured. Getting back to normal and being able to run without any worries, that’s what is special to me. I just want to get in there and let the game come to me. We’ll work from there.”