Joe Sykes, like most football players, have the dream of playing professional football one day. For the former Grenada HS standout, he realized that dream, but only for a fleeting moment.
Now, Sykes is working to get back to the NFL. He just completed his first season playing in the Canadian Football League with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Sykes hopes his play North of the Border will catch the eye of a General Manager or Scout in the NFL.
“The experience in the NFL was nice,” Sykes said. “It has always been a dream of mine to play in the league. I got my chance and did what I could.”
Sykes said that the NFL experience was a lesson learned regarding how the league truly operates.
“There are a lot of things that go on behind the scenes that the average fan doesn’t know about,” Sykes said. “The guys making the most money get the most repetitions in practice. The teams have so much money invested in that player that they have to play him no matter how he has been playing. You have to compete well in practice to just stay there.”
No fair shot
Sykes didn’t feel he had a fair spot at keeping a roster spot with the Washington Redskins. He spent 2006-07 with the NFC Eastern Division squad. Sykes was on reserve, the practice squad, and even played in a game.
“You have to work even harder and not get discouraged,” Sykes said. I didn’t feel that I got a fair shot, but I’m going to keep working to get back there.”
Right now, he is comfortable making a name for himself. In fact, he just missed out on a chance of playing on his second championship team.
“The CFL is a good place,” Sykes said. “The fans are loyal. I like Canada. The pay is good in the league. I’m working to get back to the NFL. There are certain areas of the game that I need to improve.”
Regina is where the team calls home in Saskatchewan Province. The city has a population of over 175,000 according to the 2006 census.
The Roughriders faced the Montreal Alouettes for the league’s Grey Cup, which is the Super Bowl for the CFL. In that contest, Montreal was lining up for the game-winning field goal. The attempt sailed wide left, but there was a flag for too many men on the field. In the CFL, you can play with 12 men. The Roughriders had 13 on the play.
Officials penalized the Roughriders 10 yards and Montreal had another chance. This time, the kick was good and the Alouettes won the Grey Cup.
Sykes played behind CFL Defensive Player of the Year John Chick. He started games against Calgary and British Columbia. The majority of the season, he played on special teams.
The Canadian game brings some differences from the NFL game.
One the field is wider and longer. Two, defensive lineman have to line up one yard off the ball. Teams have only two downs to get a first down. On third down, they have to punt or go for the first down.
“That rule gives the linemen a big advantage,” Sykes said. “They are able to get going quicker. Running plays develop slower because of that.”
His contract with the Roughriders was for three years with the third year as an option season. He can opt out to the NFL but not another CFL team. If he goes to NFL and is released, he returns to the CFL team that signed him.
Prior to the CFL, Sykes spent a season with Green Bay in the Arena2 Football League. He was named league Defensive Player of the Year.
His college career ended at Southern University in Baton Rouge. Prior to that, Sykes was at West Virginia University and then Holmes Community College.
Sykes begins camp in June but plans to return to Canada soon. He and the squad are thoroughly involved in community work through the organization.
“We all are involved in speaking to the schools in the offseason,” Sykes said. “During the season, there are 4-5 of us. We talk to them about the importance of staying in school.”
Sykes knows it’s going to take another break for him to get that shot at the NFL.
“I’ll be working to get myself in a position to get back into the NFL,” Sykes said. “Hopefully, I can catch this break and get back.”
Until then, Sykes will continue to chase CFL quarterbacks from his defensive tackle position with the dream of the NFL within reach.