When the Ottawa Redblacks took the field on Friday night at TD Place, the roster was filled with new faces, thanks to an offseason where the entire offence was given a makeover. Stars such as Jeremiah Masoli, Jaelon Acklin, and an entirely new starting five on the offensive line stole the show, but as there typically is, there were a couple of rookies looking to leave their mark on the Canadian game, and the city of Ottawa.
Among them, was the former Utah State Aggies receiver, Siaosi Mariner. Before turning professional, Mariner spent two seasons playing college football, starting with the University of Utah, before transferring to Utah State University, where in 2019, he teamed up with Green Bay Packers’ first-round pick, Jordan Love. In that season, Love threw 20 touchdown passes, 10 of which were hauled in by Mariner. In just 13 games, Mariner, in addition to his 10 touchdowns, picked up 63 receptions, good for 987 yards, finishing his college career just shy of 1,200 yards.
Mariner didn’t take the direct route to the CFL. With the cancelled season in 2020, and using the 2021 season looking for work in the NFL, Mariner worked his way to a contract with the Baltimore Ravens, but it didn’t work out. In January of 2022, Mariner signed a contract with the Redblacks, and although he may not have known it at the time, it was a move that would show potential almost immediately, as he took reps with the number ones all week, and started the team’s first preseason game.
“First CFL game and my first start, it was definitely a blessing,” Mariner said. “I think it’s a testament to what I set for myself to achieve [coming into camp]. I can give a little credit to myself, but it was getting here and trying to learn the system as fast as I could, and really, just having the coaches believe in me to put me out there. It was special to see. They went ahead and put me in that position, and I did what I could when I could.”
In his limited playing time, Mariner caught one pass, out of the hands of Masoli, for 20 yards. It was a real ‘welcome to the CFL’ moment for Mariner, who unfortunately didn’t have his family in the stands for the game. As he reflected on the catch and hearing his name over the PA system, he says that family was the only thing that could have made it sweeter.
“That was great, I wish my family could have seen it,” said Mariner. “I got a clip of it, and I got to send it over to them. I was saying after the game that I’m in the books for a little bit, but it was great to get out there and get my first out of the way, now I’m ready to catch plenty more.”
The plan was never for Mariner to play the full game against the Toronto Argonauts, of course, but his day ended a little earlier than he, and the coaching staff, would have hoped. Mariner found himself a little banged up, and was taken out of the game for precautionary reasons. Thankfully, he’s back on the field this week at practice, and he isn’t allowing that minor injury to stop him from achieving what he wants to achieve.
“I’m feeling better,” Mariner said. “It was precautionary things, and they didn’t want things to get any worse than they already were. It was good to get out there and get a feel for the CFL game, as well as be under the lights with the beautiful people of Ottawa.”
“I remember when Kobe Bryant dislocated his finger, so I took that kind of mood,” he continued. “He dislocated his finger, and that didn’t stop him from being great. I’m trying to take that same mindset for myself. If something is nagging me, continue to be great and continue to do what the coaches ask of me.”
Mariner isn’t the first member of his family to play professional football. His cousin, Matt Asiata, played in the National Football League for five seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, and bounced around a little bit with the Detroit Lions and the Alliance of American Football’s Salt Lake Stallions.
“We have that NFL pedigree within the family, so he’s always someone I’ve looked up to,” Mariner said of his cousin. “I strive to [follow in his footsteps], but my journey led me here. I’m really blessed to be here, and I love it here in the CFL.”
“We talk all the time, and his biggest thing is just always be ready when they do call your number. That’s what I try to do. He also says that the biggest thing about playing pro sports is being a professional. I’ve been around guys in the CFL, like Nick Arbuckle and I have the same agent. Watching Arbuckle this past offseason and seeing the kind of professional he is, and even working out with Jeremiah Masoli a few times, watching the way they worked definitely helped me out.”
Outside of his cousin Asiata, Mariner has found new role models to help him in his new surroundings. With Jeremiah Masoli commanding the huddle, and two veteran leaders in Darvin Adams and Jaelon Acklin sharing a receivers room, Mariner is learning from some of the best players in the league.
“I tell Jeremiah Masoli every day, ‘you were a legend at my high school’,” Mariner said. “We watched Masoli at Oregon, so life comes full circle. I’m still kinda star-struck seeing him out there, but you definitely feel his presence in the huddle.”
“I watch Darvin Adams on film and I kinda see some of myself in him,” he said. “We have the same body type and we move the same, so I really lock in on him. I ask him a lot of questions, and he probably does get annoyed with me. Every chance I get, I’m asking him questions. He’s nothing but ears, and he’s willing to help all the young guys.”
“Acklin is more of my age, so he and I have a little bit of a different relationship. He’s like my brother. He had success young, so I look at him and he’s been doing his thing. He’s put himself in a good position to be great, and that’s all I want to do, I want to come out here and be one of the great ones.”
Mariner was quick to suggest other names, as well, but also stressed that the locker room has been a brotherhood early in training camp. He says that if he needs help with something, it’s never hard to find someone willing to help.
It’s not just about current members of the Redblacks, however. On Mariner’s jersey, the number 82 brings back memories of a different, not too far gone, era of Ottawa football. Previously, the number 82 was worn by none other than Greg Ellingson, who put down four 1,000-yard seasons as a member of the Redblacks, and quickly became a fan favourite for his timely catches and consistency. Mariner, who by his own admission is a bit of a football nerd, knows all about the history of the number he chose, and is honoured to wear what has become a historic number in the city of Ottawa.
“I do know, it’s Greg Ellingson,” said Mariner cutting off the end of the question, excited to showcase his Ottawa football knowledge. “I knew the history of the number when they gave it to me. They tried to give me a little trivia quiz, but I love football so much that I knew who Ellingson is. When they gave me the number, I knew it was special because I know how much he means to this city. I want to pick up where he left off and make it even greater.”
“I’m going to embrace the number and everything that comes with it,” he said. “I’m not going to try to overlook Ellingson, because I know he means so much to the city, but I want to keep that number in good company.”
Subscribe to 13th Man Sports to get email notifications when we post!