You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
Linebacker T.J. Brunson took full advantage of his opportunity when he debuted for the Saskatchewan Roughriders in their 34-29 win over the BC Lions on Sunday, August 20.
Brunson was a force on special teams, creating a couple of bone-jarring hits.
He provided a spark to the green and white late in the first quarter with a booming hit on BC returner Terry Williams that immediately sent Roughrider fans into a frenzy at Mosaic Stadium.
On Wednesday, Brunson told Michael Ball on the SportsCage that he was so focused on making a play that he didn’t hear anything until the aftermath of his hit on Williams.
“It definitely got kind of quiet when I hit him (Williams), I didn’t really like hear how loud anything was, but I definitely felt the crowd when I started celebrating after the hit.”
Brunson added, “more so the feel of vibration and everything than actually screaming.”
Patience was something the former University of South Carolina Gamecock had to deal with over the past two seasons. Brunson was drafted by the New York Giants in the 7th round of the 2020 NFL Draft, he missed the entire 2021 season as he tore his ACL in the first preseason game. In June of 2022, the Giants waived him.
The linebacker was a late addition to the Roughriders roster during training camp and would soon find himself on the practice roster to begin the season.
Brunson was excited to play his first full game since the 2020 against BC.
“Rush of emotions to finally get back out on to the field.” He added, “The feeling itself is second to none, it felt so good to get back on the field and play.”
After working his way back onto a roster, the 25-year-old missed being surrounded by a team environment that he has found in Saskatchewan.
“The camaraderie and just the locker room antics, just being on the team, being with the guys.”
Brunson added that he appreciates being back on the gridiron.
“Just the game itself, it’s such a big part of my life for so long, to actually see it, kind of, wouldn’t say taken away, but to not have it, for so long.” He continued, “I had to figure out what I really wanted to do and, you know, how I can make that happen. It really just forced me to focus on what mattered to me and what I wanted to do.”
Head Coach Craig Dickenson sensed the Roughriders needed some extra for their recent matchup against the Lions, which led him to insert Brunson into the Saskatchewan lineup.
“We felt like we needed a little more thump; that was the term we used all week. We needed more physicality on special teams and on defence, and we felt he (Brunson) could bring it, and he did.”
The collision with Williams caught the attention of football fans across the country, and the league’s discipline group also took notice. Brunson received a fine for a hit, which took him by surprise.
“I thought it was pretty routine; I’m not out there trying to hurt anyone, you know, disrespect the rules or the game, the league or anything like that.”
Listeners of the SportsCage were quick to show their support for the sudden special team’s star by raising more than enough funds to cover the fine issued to Brunson. He said that based on the stories he’s heard about Rider Nation, he shouldn’t be too shocked about the fan base’s contribution.
“I’ve heard so much about Rider Nation and just how supportive they are, and I’ve been able to see over the last couple of weeks. ” Brunson said, “The most surprising part is there was action behind the words.”
Brunson has decided to donate the $650 raised to KidSport, a cause he feels passionate about.
“To give those kids an opportunity to get out and play the sport or, you know to be surrounded by other kids their age and get to do something outside and have an opportunity they normally won’t have, I think that’s awesome.”
Eric Lofton and Brandon Council once again split the reps at left tackle on Thursday; Dickenson said after practice a decision has been made for Sunday but wouldn’t reveal the starter..
Dickenson stopped practice and huddled up the team for a quick meeting. The Riders head coach felt he didn’t communicate the goals to the team as they were practicing situational drills and wanted to reiterate his point. He noted the team responded in a positive way after the short meeting.
Play of the Day: Kian Schaffer-Baker was able to haul in a deep reception from QB Jake Dolegala, with DB Amari Henderson providing tight coverage.
The injury report remained the same as yesterday, with DB C.J. Reavis (hamstring), DB Nelson Lokombo (knee) and LB Justin Herdman-Reed (Quad)
Dickenson added that it’s looking unlikely that WR Brayden Lenius and DB Rolan Milligan will return from injury before the end of the season. He added the team remain hopeful for OL Philip Blake to return.