Individual accolades are always nice, but for Dylan Roper the fact that he was on a winning team was the biggest thing this football season.
Roper, a stud defensive end for the Langley Rams, is in his eighth season of organized football, but team success has been hard to come by.
“I have never had a winning season in football,” admitted Roper.
“The biggest thing was to win, which was more important than having personal accolades.”
Roper and the Rams are one game away from winning the Cullen Cup, the B.C. Football Conference’s top prize.
The Rams (7-3) travel to Kelowna on Sunday to face the Okanagan Sun (9-1) in the championship final, with the winner hosting the Canadian Junior Football League championship on Nov. 8.
The teams have played three times and while Langley won the first battle, Okanagan has taken the past two.
And along the way to the championship game, Roper has indeed earned some personal accolades as on Tuesday morning, he was named the BCFC’s top defensive lineman as well as the top defensive player.
Roper led the league with 10 quarterback sacks, had 11 tackles, seven assists, one knockdown and two forced fumbles during the 10-game regular season.
He added two more sacks, one tackle, one assist and a forced fumble in the Rams’ 48-46 semifinal victory over the Kamloops Broncos on Saturday afternoon at McLeod Athletic Park.
He only began playing the sport in Grade 10 at Carson Graham Secondary in North Vancouver. Up until that point, Roper — who is now six-foot-one and 235 pounds — had concentrated on hockey.
This despite the fact his father Russell played at the NCAA Division 1 level with Iowa, and his uncle Gerald Roper played in the CFL with both the B.C. Lions and Ottawa Rough Riders during an 11-year career.
“They never pushed me into football, never asked me to play,” Roper said.
And once he started, schools began taking notice and Roper earned a scholarship to play for the SFU Clan.
“The biggest thing I learned was to take it one play at a time,” Roper said about his time with the Clan. “And mistakes are going to happen, you just can’t get down on yourself, you have to stay positive.”
His play with the Clan also garnered Roper CFL attention and the B.C. Lions selected him in the sixth round (50th overall) of the 2014 draft.
He attended training camp with the Lions but failed to stick.
And with one year of eligibility, Roper thought it would be best to keep playing while he works on completing his education degree.
With teams expressing interest in the defensive lineman, Roper opted to stay closer to home, especially because he saw such potential with the Rams.
“He came into our program (and) he could have had an ego, could have had a swagger about him, but he really came in and put his head down and worked his butt off,” said Langley head coach and general manager Jeff Alamolhoda.
“He is a phenomenal athlete, but an even better leader and player.”
The coach added that the younger players on the roster have taken notice of Roper’s work ethic.
“His work ethic is very consistent and he never takes a break,” Alamolhoda said.
The success has been a product of hard work.
“I have learned my instincts and what I am good at so coming into this year, I knew what my strengths were and tried to use them,” Roper said.
He has had to deal with cut blocks and double and triple teams all season.
“Every team had their different wrinkle (on how they were going to play me),” he said.
“It made it fun every week, not knowing what I was going to get into.”
With the opposition focusing attention on Roper attacking from the outside, that has opened up chances for his teammates to break through and harass the quarterback.
And with his junior football set to wind down, that does not mean Roper is done with the game.
He has been in contact with CFL clubs throughout the season and is hoping to earn at least a tryout, and hopefully a roster spot for 2015.
Roper also has a British passport and could explore playing professionally in Europe as well.
In addition to Roper’s award, Langley Rams linebacker Ethan Schulz was also named the BCFC rookie of the year.
Schulz finished the regular season with 23 tackles, 14 assists, four sacks, once forced fumble, four fumble recoveries, one interception and one touchdown.