YORKTON - In terms of football in Saskatchewan Rueben Mayes is quite likely the best player to ever put on the pads.
And now Mayes, who launched his outstanding career with the North Battleford Comprehensive School Vikings is being inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame as part of its 2022 class.
“I’m very humbled and honoured to have my name alongside the great teams and athletes in Saskatchewan, especially being born and raised in North Battleford . . . It really means a lot to me,” he told Yorkton This Week.
Mayes said he most certainly looks back on his days in Saskatchewan as being foundational, including participating in athletics in places such as Yorkton and Saskatoon, and learning for people such as Don Hodges.
And, of course playing football.
“There was a lot of great competition playing with the North Battleford Comprehensive School Vikings,” said Mayes.
The competition was good enough to open a door to one of the top American college programs.
Mayes played at the Washington State University where he was recognized as a consensus All-American and finished 10th in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1984.
Mayes also set single-season and career-rushing school records (1,632; 3,519 yards) with the Cougars, and established an NCAA record for most rushing yards in one game (357 at Oregon in 1984). It was the Pacific-10 Conference record for over a quarter century, until broken by Ka'Deem Carey in 2012, according to Wikipedia.
When it came time to turn pro football fans back in Saskatchewan were holding out some small sliver of hope he might opt for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, myself among them.
“I loved the Saskatchewan Roughriders. I grew up idolizing George Reed and all he had done,” said Mayes.
But his career would take him south to the National Football League and the New Orleans Saints.
“My perspective was how can I be the best,” he said, adding coming out of college he was rated highly in the NFL draft and saw that as the best way to measure just how good he was.
“Any student athlete really wants to see how they can do at the highest level,” he added.
So Mayes was off to the Saints where he excelled early.
Mayes was selected in the third round (57th overall) of the 1986 NFL Draft by New Orleans. He won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award that year from the Associated Press and was named to the Pro Bowl twice.
After five seasons with the Saints, Mayes was traded to the Seattle Seahawks in 1992 played the final two years of his career.
So what is the moment he looks back on most fondly?
Interestingly, he pointed to a moment that was off the field, humorous and spoke to his upbringing.
Mayes said after being named rookie of the year he called his mom to share the news.
“She said that’s good and then asked when was I coming home,” he said, adding it was one of those moments that brings things back into focus, like family always being more important than a football award.
In general, Mayes says he sees his career in chunks of success more than a single carry or touchdown.
For example, there was the game he rushed for 200 yards against Tampa Bay, a memorable game not a single moment.
And there are of course memories of going up against the best like San Francisco safety Ronnie Lott and Chicago linebacker Mike Singletary.
There was also the pride of being “the guy for a few years” knowing when the Saints took the field on a given Monday night with thousands watching he would be given the ball 25 or 30 times and “the responsibility of that,” explained Mayes.
Now he is just pleased the SSHF has come calling – thankful Joe Gallo nominated him.
It’s not the first hall of fame Mayes has been called too. In fact, he said he is in seven between Washington and nationally, including the college football hall of fame.
But the SSHF tops his list, he says.
“It’s the height of achievement for me,” he said, adding it is sort of the final exclamation mark “on what I’ve done, bringing it back to where I grew up. . . It’s kind of a final stamp on my legacy.”
So given the legacy does Mayes have advice for young football players today?
“Always have your vision in front of you,” he said, adding even more important is always be ready to take every opportunity that presents itself. “. . . Don’t let fear get in the way.”
Mayes said whenever you take an opportunity, whether successful, or not “you’ve learned something” that you can build on.
The SSHF class of 2022, features three athletes and two builders.
The athletes are Kelsie Hendry (Saskatoon) and Harry Jerome (Prince Albert) both in athletics, alongside Mayes.
In the builder category Antonia “Toni” Beerling (Rosthern) in athletics and Bill Brownridge (Vawn) in hockey are being inducted.
The 2022 class will join the 2021 class that was announced in May of 2021 and be installed together at the 53rd Induction Ceremony on Saturday, Sept. 24, at the Conexus Arts Centre in Regina.