Riley Boersma is about to take the next step in his football career, a football career that really started in Guelph.
Boersma, who was born in Toronto but grew up in Erin, went to St. James Catholic High School in Guelph because Erin District High School didn’t participate in football. Now he’s a receiver with the University of Regina Rams.
On Tuesday Boersma was drafted in the eighth round of the CFL draft, 72nd overall, by the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
“I knew I wanted to play football,” the 22-year-old said in a video chat prior to the draft. “My first year I came in (to St. James), I wanted to play running back but we had some good running backs back then.”
That was the 2013 District 10 high school football season and the Lions had Michael Webber and Rodrique Kinga at running back and there was no room in the backfield for an unproven Grade 9 player. But he caught the eyes of the coaching staff during practices.
“I didn't play a few games and I was just throwing the ball around at quarterback and the coaches were kind of like 'Hey, this guy can kind of throw and he's a pretty good runner, too, so maybe we can put him at quarterback,’” Boersma recalls. “I played quarterback my first year and then Mike and Rod both left my second year so I transitioned to running back.”
“We actually started him at quarterback in Grade 9 for a variety of reasons, but one because he was at that point in time our best athlete,” St. James coach Jeff Cummings said. “Athletically, he was just so gifted that we decided we were going to change everything that we were doing and we're going to centre it around this Grade 9 kid who had this incredible skills set.”
Boersma’s year at running back with the Lions started off slowly with no scores in his first game, then he broke loose in the second game.
“I played the first half and scored six touchdowns and then the coaches took me out for the rest of the game,” Boersma said.
“We still have it in our records, the six-touchdown game against Centennial,” Cummings said. “We've never seen anything like that. He had over 400 yards rushing. He had six touchdowns and it was still a fairly close game (40-21 final). It's not just like we fed him the ball, he was just that good.”
However, Boersma’s time in the local high school league lasted but two seasons as the threat of a labour disruption meant there might not be high school football in the fall of 2015, so Boersma looked elsewhere.
“There was a threat of a strike and I also got recruited to Canada Prep, too,” he said. “I wanted to try and play in the States for university so I thought I'd be able to get some exposure that way playing my high school football in the States.”
His final year with the Lions saw him named a league all-star as he finished the season with a total of 14 TDs.
“If he'd had two more seasons in District 10, the stories we'd have about Riley Boersma would be talked about for the next 100 years,” Cummings said. “The kid was absolutely phenomenal athletically.”
Prior to heading to Canada Prep, he had a season of summer football with the Guelph Junior Gryphons in the Ontario Football Conference junior varsity league and helped that team complete an undefeated season with a win over the Peterborough Wolverines in the championship match. In that game Boersma caught a pair of touchdown passes on offence as a wide receiver and intercepted two Peterborough passes on defence.
“In Regina, everyone talks about high school football, but for me I remember the focal point of football being the summer league,” Boersma said. “It's really cool. There's six high school teams in Guelph and you can get all the best talented players from those teams and even from people just outside of Guelph to come and play on one team. That really enhances the competition level.”
After that it was one year at Canada Prep and two at Royal Imperial Collegiate of Canada.
“I was at receiver, but it's tough to get the ball if your offence isn't performing,” he said of his year at Canada Prep. “I think I had a couple of touchdowns. The competition level was a lot higher, too, so it took some time getting used to.”
The switch to RICC paid off.
“I had a little bit better of a season,” he said. “I scored five or six touchdowns at receiver, that's all I remember. There's no championship or anything in those. It's just exhibition games all the time. That kind of sucked because you weren't really playing for anything in particular. Everyone was just playing for their own exposure and trying to go to the States. It was definitely a cool experience and a lot of good competition.”
Another thing that wasn’t too good was the road trips. They played against U.S. teams and that meant four-down football and a lot of time on buses. Their longest trip was for a game in Texas.
“We played a 7 o'clock game, finished around 10, showered at the place and then bused the whole 30 hours back right after,” he said. “For people who haven't played a football game, they maybe don't have a lot of respect for that, but your body's already in a lot of pain and to be stuck on a bus for 30 hours immediately afterwards was pretty rough.”
After the prep schools, Boersma decided on attending the University of Regina to play football and study philosophy, politics and economics, a decision to go west made when he and his teammate and roommate at both prep schools, Chase Ellingson from Swan River, Man., decided they wanted to continue being teammates.
“We both got a couple of (NCAA U.S. university) D2 offers, but we didn't get any shots at playing D1 football which was what we were hoping for,” Boersma said. “So then we decided we'd try to go to a university in Canada together, whatever that university might be. His brother had just enrolled at the University of Regina and his parents had bought a house out there for him to stay in so we kind of had a connection there and we both got some scholarships out there. Part of me also wanted to go experience another part of Canada. I grew up in Ontario my whole life. I also knew that Regina liked to throw the ball a lot.”
And, as was the case with his high school football at St. James, his university football was interrupted when the pandemic hit.
“My first year in 2018 I was mostly just a specials guy. I didn't really get any reps at receiver,” Boersma said. “My 2019 year I came out as a receiver and kind of had a breakout year which was really exciting. You forget how much you really love to play football. Playing special teams and that was amazing, but just finally getting to play again I was excited and becoming more of a focal point of the offence was pretty exciting. We lost three of our starting receivers that year so I knew I was going to be more of a focal point of the offence that next year, but it was pretty unfortunate we had that COVID year. But everyone was in the same boat there.”
Boersma had played three games in 2018 with no offensive stats, then had 21 catches for 478 yards and four TDs in 2019. Last fall he played all six games for Regina with 18 catches for 285 yards and two TDs.
Before the draft, Boersma had no favourite as far as the team he hoped would pick him.
“They all sound like good options to me. I'm kind of indifferent. They all have their perks,” he said.
“I'm excited. It's tough going into it because you don't know what team you're going to go to, you don't know what round you're going to go in, but I kind of like the chaos of it, not knowing where you're going to go.”