YAC Yaks: Driver Kian Schaffer-Baker talks football, family and faith

Words by Daniella Ponticelli

Kian Schaffer-Baker is a standout on the football field and is usually the last one after a game.

The 24-year-old from Mississauga, Ont. makes quick time for young fans at Mosaic Stadium, signing jerseys and handing out game gloves, no matter the weather. He even stopped at a Regina park once to throw some soccer balls while kids practiced their skills.

“I’m taking 30 minutes just to say hello and meet some new people, and hopefully that has an impact on them,” he said.

“As much as it makes their day, it makes my day even better when I meet all these people and see their smiles and all the questions they have to ask.”

(Image: Fan signs in the cold – late November 2021)

It wasn’t long before Rider Nation came on board with the dynamic receiver, whose name is appearing on more fan jerseys and serving up a delicious, well-known nickname.

“My first football coach, he called me ‘Shake ‘n Bake’. So the fact that it’s only worn so far is just insane. I love it,” he said.

Aside from his friendly nature, Schaffer-Baker is aggressive with his drive to be the best. His high-flying athletic catches and consistent yards gained thereafter earn him plaudits across the league.

“One thing my college coach used to say was, ‘Always make the first one miss.’ So after you miss the first guy, you might as well miss the second guy,” he said, laughing.

In his first eight regular season games in 2022, Schaffer-Baker has 215 yards after catch (YAC). It’s just shy of its rookie YAC tally of 231 in 12 regular-season games.

(Image: Kian Schaffer-Baker carries the ball and a half-dozen Ottawa RedBlacks players at Mosaic Stadium on July 11, 2022)

Still, it feels unreal for the Mississauga boy to see his name emblazoned on a CFL jersey.

Mum Lisa Schaffer said Kian first wanted to play football when he was four and was watching his older brother at the time, but had to wait until he was nine to join a junior club.

“We had a calendar where every year we said, ‘Okay, one year closer to your football game,'” she said. “He always said, ‘I want to be a professional footballer.’ Even in kindergarten.

When the time finally came, Lisa remembered signing a waiver because Kian was so small. He remained the shortest player as he progressed through varsity, often sitting while other older, taller players got replays.

“But he sat on the bench and looked, he knew what everyone was doing. He was just biding his time to shine,” she said. “What really amazes me is that it’s all his work, his dedication. He always wanted to go to training.”

(Picture: Kian and Mama young / Kian and Mama playing)
(Left) Lisa Schaffer and son Kian Schaffer-Baker receiving the 2016 Rookie of the Year award for the Guelph Gryphons. (Right) A bucket list item crossed out for Schaffer-Baker as he passed a CFL game ball to mother Lisa after a touchdown at Mosaic Stadium on July 8, 2022.

Schaffer-Baker beams when he talks about his mother, who was single-handedly raising three children, and her determination to help them succeed.

“I could probably count on my hand how many games she missed growing up,” he said. “She just always found a way to put our priorities first. Their daily hard work and determination has been passed down to me and that inspires me.”

Schaffer-Baker’s persistence hasn’t gone unnoticed by coaches and others with a means of helping him along the way. When Lisa was working weekends, his high school football coach, Patrick McCallion, would take him on campus tours. He connected with the likes of former CFL defenseman Shea Pierre, who showed him how pro athletes train and helped him achieve his dream.

Schaffer-Baker eventually played USports football with the University of Guelph Gryphons from 2016 to 2019. He finished 28 games with 95 receptions for 1,544 yards and eight touchdowns.

(Image: Young Kian / Kian & HS Football Coach)
(Right) Kian Schaffer-Baker in 2007 when he ended up playing for Streetsville Meadowvale Football Club in Mississauga, Ontario. (Left) Schaffer-Baker, who plays for the University of Guelph, poses with his high school football coach Patrick McCallion, who took him on many varsity tours while Mama Lisa was working.

Despite not being invited to the 2020 CFL Combine, Schaffer-Baker was drafted by the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the fourth round, 30th overall.

The canceled pandemic season pushed back his rookie season to 2021, where he recorded 47 receptions for 563 yards and two touchdowns in 12 regular-season games.

“It’s a new home, it’s a different home. But it’s one that I’ve embraced and learned to love, and it shares a special place in my heart with all of these new people and memories I’ve made here,” he said.

Schaffer-Baker, now in his sophomore year, believes the 2022 Riders Receiving Corps is particularly tight, going out to dinner weekly and finding ways to network as friends.

“We have such a good group of guys from top to bottom. Whether that starts with our receiver trainer and then to the new guys that have come into the team. We’re so close,” he said.

“We always pick each other up and help each other become the best version of ourselves. We have to do that to win championships.”

(Picture: High-fiving with number 5 Duke Williams)
Kian Schaffer-Baker (right) celebrates with the Riders wide receiver Duke Williams at Mosaic Stadium.

Faith is another glue tightly binding the bonds of the 2022 Saskatchewan Roughriders team.

Schaffer-Baker said there is a group that regularly conducts Bible studies and attends services when time permits. Otherwise, they participate in online services. Each game day, the team’s chaplain, Jared LaCoste, leads a special prayer with a smaller group of players to give strength and direction to the team.

“Then when we pray as a team. We just say ‘Our Father’ and recite that all together before going to war against each other,” he said.

“It’s something I enjoy very much. (Faith) definitely puts your mind at ease and that’s the only reason I personally and all of us out there play soccer – because God has blessed us with the opportunity to get out there.”

(Picture: prayer photo in the field)
(From left) Kian Schaffer-Baker prays with rider chaplain Jared LaCoste and quarterback Cody Fajardo on the field at Mosaic Stadium on July 8, 2022.

For his first home game in the CFL, Schaffer-Baker said he was pleased with head coach Craig Dickenson’s “phenomenal” work.

“He really cares about us deep down. How we’re doing, how our mental health’s doing, how our well-being’s doing,” he said. “There are so many little factors that go into what we do every day and he looks at each and every one of them.”

While he has scored many touchdowns in many venues, Schaffer-Baker said there was something electric about Mosaic Stadium’s thundering sound.

“There is no better feeling. All the rumble and shaking of the whole stadium and then give them a little dance or something to make them even crazier,” he said, adding that he’s always grateful to the fans who showed up, whether it’s a game or not is a workout.

“We just appreciate that. And that’s another reason why we’re working so hard and hoping to pull up this Gray Cup on November 20th in front of all our amazing fans.”

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