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Photo courtesy Calgary Stampeders

Florida man pursues football career in the great white north

By David Song, January 20 2021—

Most young boys who grow up playing football in Florida do not imagine themselves experiencing winter in western Canada. Yet, that is where life took Calgary Stampeders wide receiver Shawn Bane, and he’s learned to deal with — if not necessarily embrace — the cold. 

Bane, 26, hails from the Gulf Coast city of Sarasota, Florida. As the middle child of seven, he grew up in a close-knit household that he says he wouldn’t trade for anything. His mom, Gretta Saunders, put her kids in sport as a way to keep them involved, and Bane calls her a “super woman” for raising all seven children without a reliable partner. 

Bane’s dad, the late Shawn Bane Sr., is remembered as a tough running back who had a short but explosive career in high school and junior college. However, Bane Sr. wasn’t always there for his family, and Bane Jr. chose to go his own way. 

For starters, football wasn’t even Bane’s first love. He attended Sarasota High School primarily for baseball and had dreams of breaking into the Major Leagues. Bane was also a talented football athlete, but for much of his adolescence, the diamond took precedence over the gridiron. Even today, amidst a Canadian Football League offseason, Bane frequents the batting cage and plays long toss to retain his baseball fundamentals. 

So how did he end up in shoulder pads? Opportunity. Based on his scholarship offers, Bane realized that colleges were more interested in him as a football player, so he joined the Northwest Missouri State University Bearcats. The Florida native won back-to-back NCAA Division II championships in 2015 and 2016 en route to becoming one of the best all-purpose players in school history. 

Bane is third all-time among Bearcats in punt-return average (11.9 per attempt), fourth in receiving yards (3363), fifth in receiving touchdowns (31) and sixth in receptions (212). 

Even so, the vast majority of Division II players go unselected in the NFL Draft — an event dominated by Division I athletes from the high-end Power 5 conferences. Bane tested free agency and in April 2019 signed with the Atlanta Falcons. The Floridian learned much from established NFL receivers like Calvin Ridley, Mohamed Sanu, Russell Gage and Julio Jones before the Falcons cut him later that August. 

“I was disappointed when they released me, but I definitely have motivation to get back because I didn’t have any nerves whenever I played,” Bane said. He credits the Falcons with teaching him how to be a professional, and he realized that NFL stars — even seven-time Pro Bowlers like Jones — are people too. That fact cements his belief that one day, he’ll return to the big league. 

After Atlanta, Bane worked out for the Pittsburgh Steelers and defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They appreciated his reliable hands and speed (Bane can run a hand-timed 40-yard dash in 4.19 seconds), but expressed a desire to see him perform against higher-level opposition. Thus, the Sarasota native remained unsigned.  

Then, late in 2019, the CFL came calling. 

Bane was first approached by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who were en route to winning their first Grey Cup since 1990. They promised him an expedited passport and immediate playing time. However, Bane’s agent advised him to wait, claiming the CFL would always exist as a backup plan. The ex-Bearcat turned down Winnipeg, but he remained eager to play and viewed Canadian football as a viable option. 

In February 2020, Bane signed with the Stampeders (who last won a Grey Cup in 2018). Weeks later, a global pandemic eliminated the entire CFL season.

Returning home to Sarasota, Bane split time between working out and doing various odd jobs — DoorDash, building fences, painting houses and so on. At points, he lacked motivation to continue with football, especially at a time when numerous CFLers were retiring for multiple reasons. Yet, faith and family kept him going when he needed it. 

“I don’t know how I stayed motivated,” Bane admits. “But you know, God has his ways. When you’re working for yourself, you can quit on yourself, you know what I’m saying? But when you’re doing it for someone else, it’s kind of like, okay, you gotta kick it into a different gear. And so I always try to keep [my family] in the back of my mind whenever I’m tired, or, you know, something isn’t going my way.” 

Bane returned to Calgary for training camp last summer, only to be released yet again. The Stamps initially established a receiving group that included former West Division All-Star Kamar Jorden, Calgary Dinos alum Richie Sindani and University of Houston product Markeith Ambles. Even so, Bane felt he had acquitted himself well in camp, and his self-confidence was later vindicated. The Stampeders, floundering at a 2-5 record, signed him ahead of their Week 8 bye. 

In his CFL debut on Oct. 2, 2021, Bane caught two passes for 56 yards and a touchdown against the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He was used sparingly as a receiver, finishing the season with just three catches for 100 yards and that lone score. However, Bane made an impact on special teams as he had throughout his career — returning 16 punts for 182 yards, seven kickoffs for 138 yards and three missed field goals for 55 yards. The Floridian was ready for the cold thanks to his time at Northwest Missouri State and adjusted well to CFL rules. 

Unlike in American football, returners may not signal a fair catch in the Canadian game. They are protected by the no yards rule, which triggers a five-yard penalty if opposing special teamers come within five yards of the returner at the moment he fields the ball. If the ball does not hit the ground before being touched, the no yards penalty increases to 15 yards.

Alas, Bane was unable to finish his inaugural CFL campaign — he tweaked his hamstring on Nov. 20 in the Stamps’ regular-season finale against Winnipeg. The injury was not major. Bane says he was at “80 per cent” going into the Western Semi-Final, but team officials elected to sideline him out of an abundance of caution. 

Eight days later, Bane watched as Calgary dropped a razor-close 33-30 overtime loss to Saskatchewan, bowing out of the playoffs. 

“I’m a champion at heart, period, and was definitely a little disappointed with myself,” the former Bearcat admitted. “Like, come on, hamstring? What were you doing [sitting out]?”

Bane re-signed with the Stampeders and plans to return next season. The Florida native believes he has more to offer — both on special teams and on offense. His goal is to win a Grey Cup, and eventually to prove himself worthy of a second stint in the NFL. 

“If last season was a glimpse, I’m gonna show you the full perspective next year,” he said. 

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