Written by Evan Tate- After a productive rookie camp in Kamloops, the Lions’ 2022 third-round draft pick has begun the next chapter of his life. Linebacker Ryder Varga was selected 29th overall last May before opting to return to the University of Regina to finish his degree. Varga then inked his first pro contract with the Lions this past winter.
“Before the draft happened, I told the teams that I was going back to school no matter what, just to finish my degree, I had just three classes left,” he explains.
“I would love to play football until I’m 45, but I think most people know it’s not a realistic option. So just making sure that my degree is all taken care of was important to me.”
Varga made the most of his final year of eligibility, recording his most impressive season to date. In nine games played, Varga managed 35 solo tackles, 19 assisted tackles, two sacks, an interception, and seven tackles for a loss.
He finished his senior season as a U SPORTS First-Team All-Canadian, Canada West All-Star, and Canada West Defensive Player of the Year.
The 24-year-old is now able to focus primarily on football in his first professional season.
“There’s a lot of long nights, trying to balance an engineering degree and University football isn’t always the easiest balancing act,” adding that there is still another level to his game he believes he’ll be able to reach.
“It was my best year, and I still think I have a lot to improve on. I’m pretty excited to see what kind of player I can become with the coaching at BC, there’s some really knowledgeable and experienced coaches here.”
The 6’3, 240-pound Regina native participated in the Lions 2022 training camp last spring, before returning to his hometown to play out his final year. Coming into camp this season, Varga has a better understanding of what to expect at the CFL level and has been prepping himself in advance.
“The CFL game’s quite a bit quicker than the university game. So all around trying to get more athletic and honestly, kind of take some time to watch film and improve on not only my personal skills but see what schemes the BC Lions run,” Varga says of how he has prepared.
Varga red-shirted his first season at the University of Regina, suiting up for just one game. He forced a fumble in the second quarter of the game to help his team secure the win in double overtime. Coming into his rookie CFL season, he understands the work that needs to be put in to get playing time, and how important it is to take advantage of any opportunity.
“I’m not going to say the season is a failure if I don’t become a starter by the end of the year. I’m just trying to play my role, and if I need to step up and play on defence, I’ll be more than ready.”
He also adds: “I just want to go out there and earn the coaches’ trust and prove to them that I can be out there and, in these situations, then on special teams, and even on defense and in intense moments.”
Varga says Lions fans may find his game familiar at first look; when asked which football player he would compare his style to, CFL or NFL, Varga acknowledged the similarities between him and a fellow Lions linebacker.
“I’m not just saying this because he’s on the team, Ben Hladik. He played on the D-line a little bit, he played linebacker, and he kind of did both because he was so big and strong and athletic and could kind of do it all. I did that same thing at Regina. I think we kind of have the same skillset, we kind of have the same body type. So hopefully I can always footsteps and he can teach me a thing or two,” the linebacker
He understands the linebacker talent surrounding him in the locker room and hopes to take advantage and learn from them.
Going into the 2022 draft, BC was the last team Varga expected to select him. Although he was surprised when he saw his name next to the Lions logo, a year later, he couldn’t be happier to be a part of this team.
“I was pretty shocked because I think every other team at the draft, or at the Combine interviewed me except for BC. After spending the first training camp with them, I’m really happy that BC took me. I think it’s a place where I’ll be able to thrive. I think it’s a really good environment, the players, the coaches, there’s a special feeling around the group.”
Varga showed well in the three-day rookie camp in Kamloops with some solid reps at linebacker. He will now use those to his advantage when the veterans roll into the Tournament Capital this weekend. The first full practice goes down on Sunday at 8:30 am-NOON at Hillside Stadium. For more training camp reports, click on our Training Camp Central page.