Josh Hagerty had a great vantage point the last time Regina played host to a Grey Cup back in 2013.
“Being on the 50-yard line with my dad to watch the Riders beat Hamilton in the Grey Cup,” he recalls.
Now the 24-year-old Regina product will have an even better view this week, as the Toronto Argonauts defensive back will be on the field himself, competing for his first CFL championship in just his second professional season.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said ahead of Sunday’s kickoff. “Coming into the stadium on gameday, it’s going to feel surreal.
“Football is massive here and it’s just so special and just such an honour to be able to play in this game.”
Being a Roughrider fan growing up, Hagerty not only has fond memories of the 2013 Grey Cup, but also the previous time Saskatchewan won it all, a few years prior in Toronto.
“I remember watching the 2007 Grey Cup on TV and then going out to Sask Drive to celebrate with the rest of the city,” said Hagerty, who was nine years old at the time. “That was a very fond memory growing up.”
Now in 2022, he gets to go out on the field himself on a chilly November day in the city he grew up in – trying to win one of his own.
“This is amazing for a first Grey Cup,” said Josh. “I’m used to playing in this weather this time of the year so it’s something I’m looking forward to.
“It feels like a home Grey Cup.”
And home is very important to Hagerty, who started playing football at 8-years-old with the atom Gators in the Regina Minor Football League. The following year, he suited up for the Golden Hawks. Then after playing quarterback for those two seasons, he made the switch to defensive back in high school with the Campbell Tartans, a move that has paid off.
“Once I got into my upper years in high school and I started to get some university looks, I started to really come into my own as an athlete,” he said.
During his high school career, Hagerty was named a city all-star in 2016 and suited up for Team Saskatchewan’s U16 and U18 teams. He also played on Team Canada’s U18 team along with the Sask Selects team that competed in San Antonio in 2014. Then after high school, Hagerty attended the University of Saskatchewan, where he played for the Huskies for four seasons from 2016 to 2020. And even though the pandemic wiped out his final season, he heard his name called at the 2021 CFL Draft by the Toronto Argonauts in the sixth round. Despite being a late pick, Hagerty made the team out of training camp.
“Football has been the number one thing in my life, the number one sport,” he said.
And while Hagerty has put in a tremendous amount of work to get to where he is today, he’s very appreciative of all the devotion and dedication from those that have supported him along the way.
“I was blessed with some great coaches around me and great mentors,” he said, “My parents were huge supporters and they always put me in every football camp and tryout that I could.
“And with some really good coaches around me like Paul Woldu and Ventson Donelson and my dad (Jeff) who were able to teach me to play defensive back at a high level.”
Hagerty believes the quality of programs and coaches in the amateur level in Saskatchewan have set himself – and others – up for more opportunities at a professional level.
“They’ve done a really good job in the minor league programs and in high school and the provincial teams to get guys ready to play at a high level,” he said. “You’re starting to see that as more Saskatchewan kids play pro football and I think it’s just going to go up from here.”
On Sunday, there’s no doubt there will be several “Hagerty 27” Argonauts jerseys in the stands, while Hagerty himself will be on the field, hardly bundled up compared to the last time he witnessed a Grey Cup game played in his hometown.
“I’m used to playing in this weather this time of the year so it’s something I’m looking forward to.”
On the other sideline, fellow Regina product Patrick Neufeld doesn’t share those same fond memories of the 2013 Grey Cup so he’s looking to write his own story this week.
Neufeld, who was a member of the Saskatchewan Roughriders at the beginning of 2013 season, was traded to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Oct. 6 that year and had to watch his hometown team hoist the trophy on home turf.
“It was tough at the time but it’s the reality of the business and the team went on to win the Grey Cup that year and they made the move that they felt was most important,” said Neufeld, who was drafted by the Riders in 2010 after playing for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies for four seasons, where he was named a CIS first-team all-Canadian and Canada West all-star in his final year.
However, Neufeld does have one positive memory of a Grey Cup being played in Regina, as he was actually on the field at one point during the 2003 championship, helping set up the halftime concert stage for Bryan Adams.
“I helped build the stage because they used all the high school football players to go build the stage at halftime,” said the former Luther High School student.
This Sunday, the 33-year-old will be looking for his third straight Grey Cup championship after winning back-to-back with the Blue Bombers in 2019 and 2021. In fact, being back home, Neufeld has already gotten a chance to reflect on those people who helped him achieve the success he’s had on the field.
“My old high school coach Gerry Harris was just texting me the other day and I still keep in contact with him, so it was cool for him to reach out and still follow my career,” said Neufeld, who’s a back-to-back CFL all-star.
And like Hagerty, Neufeld will have many friends and family in attendance for the game, including his brother who is flying in from Toronto and his parents, who are still season ticket holders at Mosaic Stadium. And to have a chance to win a Grey Cup in his hometown, in front of friends and family, will be special.
“For me, it’s come full circle starting my football career here playing at the old Mosaic Stadium and playing with Luther College High School,” he said. “It’s pretty exciting for me on a personal note to be back here for Grey Cup week.”