BURNABY — You can’t say there are a ton of certainties for a rising football team striving to establish both winning credentials and recognizable identity within the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.
Yet Simon Fraser Clan head coach Thomas Ford is willing to put it all on the line when asked about one member of his 2019 team.
“Rysen John is a physical freak and there is not going to be one team we play all year long who is not going to want to know where he is at all times,” Ford said last Saturday following the Clan’s annual fall camp scrimmage finale at Terry Fox Field. “He’s a dude.”
Yet as John, the former Vancouver College Fighting Irish standout, gets set to open his senior season Saturday in SFU’s 2019 non-conference debut stateside against the Portland State Vikings (2 p.m., PlutoTV), his is finally a story not just about his imposing 6-foot-7, 225-pound wide receiver’s frame.
Over this final collegiate chapter, one most agree will give him a chance to reach pro level, it’s more about what he has done to enhance every other aspect of his skill set.
“Since my first year I’ve been pretty thin,” admits John who looked anything but during last week’s scrimmage. “So over the off-season I really focussed on my nutrition, and I really stepped it up in the weight room, too. I’ve also been running a lot. I know I am going to get targeted a lot this season, and I know I am also going to get hit a lot.”
Ever-improving since his maiden campaign in 2016 under former head coach Kelly Bates, John enjoyed his best campaign last season when he caught 50 passes for 706 yards and six touchdowns and a 14.1 yards-per-catch average in 10 games. Every number represented a career high.
“He is going to have a huge year,” says starting Clan quarterback Justin Seiber, who saw enough action last season that the chemistry-building ways between the pair is already well under way. “I can’t wait to see numbers he is going to put up.”
Ford can’t do the work for his players, and to that end, there is a contented tone the head coach’s voice when he speaks to the work John put in over the summer in Bellevue, Wash., at the renowned Ford Sports Performance facility run by his brother Tracy, coincidentally a former Portland State player.
“You can see it paying off,” Thomas Ford added. “He is faster, he’s stronger and he gets in and out of his breaks better. Like I said, he’s a dude.”
Interestingly enough, in a 2016 interview for a story I wrote on John in The Vancouver Province, Vancouver College head coach Todd Bernett remarked of his then 205-pounder: “Give him another 25 pound and he’s going to be a real weapon.”
Named by his mom after former NFL wide receiver Andre ‘Bad Moon’ Rison, Rysen John admits he’s spent his fair share of time looking into the history of the Clan’s incredible professional football lineage.
To him, he’s honoured to try to follow in their footsteps.
“It feels like a lot of big shoes to fill,” he says. “From the first season I was here, seeing the Herdman brothers (Jordan and Justin) going to their first Senior Bowl and getting a chance to play against the best seniors in America, that became a goal of mine.
“A lot of Simon Fraser alums have played in the CFL for a number of years,” he adds, “and hopefully I can get opportunities in both leagues, the NFL and CFL. But right now, I need to work day-by-day at my craft to get an opportunity for that shot.”
That’s the surest sign of the maturity John has added to his overall repertoire since joining the Clan.
Coming out of high school, over his senior 2015 season, John’s 971 yards receiving led all of Triple A football.
That total was second provincially to a player who has become one of the best receivers in all of college football, current Notre Dame Fighting Irish star Chase Claypool, who accumulated 1,473 yards as a senior for the Abbotsford Panthers.
Claypool started his season off fast on Monday, making five catches for 94 yards and an 18.8 YPC average in his team’s 35-17 win over Louisville.
The Clan, meantime, will return to the road next weekend with a Sept. 14 game in Texas against Angelo State.
The home opener at Burnaby’s Swangard Stadium is set for Sept. 21 when the South Dakota School of Mines is in town for a 6 p.m. kick-off.
NOTE — The live video stream for Saturday’s contest at Portland State is available via Pluto TV (PlutoTV.com) or at WatchBigSky.com. Portland State is coming off a most impressive road performance in the SEC where it lost 20-13 at Arkansas last week.
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