Now that he’s signed with the CFL team that drafted him, Jesse Lawson is more than eager to finally play some pro football.
The Surrey-raised offensive lineman was among five players of the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ 2020 draft class given contracts on Jan. 19, along with receiver Kian Schaffer-Baker, linebacker A.J. Allen, defensive back Vincent Dethier and running back Jonathan Femi-Cole.
Last spring, the Riders drafted Lawson out of Carleton in the seventh round, 62nd overall.
With the 2020 CFL season cancelled due to COVID-19, and games for this coming season still in question, Lawson has had to keep his mind and body in shape in other ways, during a difficult year for him and other football players of his calibre.
At age 25, the six-foot-six grad of Sullivan Heights Secondary still lives and works (in the security business) in Ottawa, where he’s been for six years while studying psychology and law at Carleton.
The last time he hit the gridiron for a meaningful football game was with the Ravens in the fall of 2019, in a playoff loss to Guelph Gryphons – more than 15 months ago.
“Yeah, it’s been awhile,” Lawson said in a phonecall. “That was my last game with Carleton. We got knocked out of the playoffs that day, and it was a bit heartbreaking. We were down the whole game and then we came back in the last little bit, and then we ended up losing off a blocked punt. That ended my university career, so that was a bit of a stinger.”
Lawson would be drafted the following spring and also graduated from Carleton, and was hoping to then pack for Regina and play a rookie CFL season that didn’t materialize.
“The ideal timing would have been to finish school there, go to camp and then play the season, but everything got cancelled because of COVID,” Lawson said. “With all that happening, I needed to find something to do in the meantime.”
Roughriders coaches kept players engaged with Zoom calls, video and playbook sessions, and it was up to Lawson to stay in shape.
“With everything closing down, it’s been a bit of task coming up with something,” he admitted. “Ontario is different with the lockdown too, with gyms not really open right now, so we had to figure it out. I bought some equipment and set it up in my garage, so I have pretty much everything I need at the house here, so that’s fortunate. I stay in shape while working, and I’m focused on being ready to go when the time comes.
“You can only do so much with no games,” Lawson added, “but I try to stay involved and try to stay engaged with the game as much as possible. Staying physically in shape is kind of the biggest thing, because I’ve been playing football long enough that I know that end of it, but there will be kinks to work out, definitely, having been off the field for a long time now. I’m not too worried about that, and I think that will come back naturally.”
At Surrey’s Sullivan Heights, he didn’t have the chance to play for the Stars school team, which got off the ground in 2018, after he’d graduated.
“They didn’t have a football team when I was there, only rugby,” Lawson recalled. “That would have been cool, but it wasn’t a thing when I was there. I reached out to (Sullivan coach Gord Randall) and talked about it, and told him it was awesome they got a team together and wanted to give them some support. I told him that if I’m in town, I’d love to do something, come out, but everything is a little different now of course.”
Randall kept an eye on Lawson during his days with Carleton. “He definitely has the potential to be a CFL regular but he’s pretty raw still at this point,” Randall said, noting Lawson’s big frame and good natural movement skills.
On riderville.com, Lawson’s bio notes he played in the 2019 East-West Bowl and was in the Top-20 on the Central Scouting Bureau list for much of 2019. On draft day, his name wasn’t called until later.
“At the end of the day, I was just excited to get drafted,” said Lawson, who watched draft results at home in Ottawa that day. “I have no doubt in my mind that with the combine getting cancelled, that had a lot to do with it. They had one, but the others got cancelled, and I feel that had something to do with where I got drafted. If had a chance to show what I can do, I would have gone higher. But really, I am happy that I landed with someone, that someone took a chance on me, and I’m ready to go.”
Now, he waits for word about a potential start date for the 2021 CFL season.
“They haven’t really said much, and there’s still a lot to figure out on their end, the league’s end,” Lawson said. “I’m sure they don’t want to get hopes up too much if there’s not a concrete plan to get it going again. But in my head I’m preparing as if I’m playing this coming season, as if there is a season. And if there isn’t, then we’ve been through that. It is what it is.”