Lions keep hold of their cor­ner­stone

Elim­imian signs ex­ten­sion through 2019 as club re­tools the sup­port group around him

The Province - - SPORTS | FOOTBALL - J.J. ADAMS

Any­one who ques­tions Solomon Elim­imian’s com­mit­ment to the B.C. Lions should know he’s spend­ing part of his off-sea­son traips­ing around the frozen parts of the prov­ince, spread­ing the non-vi­o­lence gospel of the Be More Than a By­stander cam­paign.

“When I was look­ing at the weather re­port and I saw the mi­nus, the mi­nus, the mi­nus, I was like, ‘Aw, man, it’s go­ing to be un­bear­able.’ So I guess I might have freaked my­self out,” the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia prod­uct said from Prince Ge­orge Wed­nes­day, where tem­per­a­tures were well into neg­a­tive double-dig­its overnight.

“It’s good for the body, though. We’ve got to play in these con­di­tions when we go to Ed­mon­ton, to Cal­gary.”

His com­mu­nity out­reach work is some­thing he takes great pride in, just as much as his on-field re­sume, a lengthy list of hall of fame-wor­thy ac­com­plish­ments. Both bod­ies of work were why the Lions re-signed him Wed­nes­day through 2019.

Now en­ter­ing his ninth sea­son with the team, only Travis Lu­lay and Rolly Lum­bala have been with the or­ga­ni­za­tion longer.

Elim­imian was the CFL’s most out­stand­ing player in 2014 and a twotime most out­stand­ing de­fen­sive player in 2014 and 2016. He is also the Lions’ all-time leader in de­fen­sive tack­les with 719 and 755 com­bined tack­les over­all.

A four-time all-star, Elim­imian has ap­peared in 114 reg­u­lar sea­son games and hit double-dig­its in tack­les in six games last sea­son.

At the be­gin­ning of last sea­son, he was held up as the one con­stant in a sea of change, a defence that had seen in­cred­i­ble turnover in the num­ber of play­ers who had been long-stand­ing Lions.

This year, it’s more of the same. The con­stant is still con­stant.

Of the team’s seven lead­ing tack­lers last sea­son, only Elim­imian and T.J. Lee are un­der con­tract.

Nickel/hy­brid line­backer Chandler Fen­ner started all 18 games for B.C., his 76 de­fen­sive stops sec­ond only to Elim­imian and his 27 spe­cial teams stops No. 2 in the league. He signed with the Win­nipeg Blue Bombers this week as did An­thony Gaitor, an­other mem­ber of B.C.’s sec­ondary.

Micah Awe, the No. 3 tack­ler with 54 stops, has been re­leased to ex­plore his NFL op­tions. Ron­nie Yell re­mains un­signed. Loucheiz Pu­ri­foy signed with the Ot­tawa Red­blacks.

The turnover has been tremen­dous, but Elim­imian re­mains un­daunted.

“You build chem­istry and trust and those play­ers, they’re not just team­mates, they’re friends,” said Elim­imian. “You put a lot of sweat and blood and tears into this thing to­gether. You hate to see them go, but that’s just how it is. Free agency, ev­ery­one wants to im­prove their fi­nan­cial sta­tus, every­body wants what’s best for them and their fam­ily. You un­der­stand it. It’s not easy play­ing with a guy for years and then see him leave in free agency.

“We’ve added some good pieces also. Hav­ing Odell Willis, hav­ing Eu­clid Cum­mings and some other free agents come in, it’s go­ing to help mov­ing for­ward. But it’s tough.

“I feel like we do a good job of get­ting good play­ers, too. Mark Wash­ing­ton, he’s a great de­fen­sive co-or­di­na­tor, he’s done a great job get­ting young guys to play at a high level. All

those guys … who are gone, a cou­ple years ago they were first-year rook­ies in the CFL. They’ve learned the game, they pro­vided us with tremen­dous play from their abil­i­ties and helped us win a lot of games.

“Now we just have to get some new guys in there and get them ac­cli­mated.”

The Lions ap­pear to be in a quiet re­build with most of the sign­ings com­ing on the of­fen­sive and de­fen­sive lines. While crit­i­cal to a team’s suc­cess, they don’t get a lot of at­ten­tion.

Even with the de­par­ture of last year’s her­alded sign­ing in re­ceiver Chris Wil­liams, the re­ceiv­ing corps re­mains strong and quar­ter­backs Jon Jen­nings and Lu­lay are proven com­modi­ties. A stronger of­fen­sive line should ad­dress some of the is­sues B.C. had last year — pass pro-

tec­tion and run block­ing — and an im­proved de­fen­sive line can only im­prove on a unit ranked third worst in sacks.

Elim­imian feels like the team is mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion with Ed Her­vey at the helm of Buono’s swansong sea­son as head coach.

“I feel like Ed is do­ing a good job in free agency. I feel like he’s go­ing to pro­vide a spark in the or­ga­ni­za­tion,” said Elim­imian. “The vi­sion he has is pre­cise and there’s a rea­son he won a Grey Cup in Ed­mon­ton. From that stand­point, every­body’s en­cour­aged.

“Every­body knows how I feel about Wally. Ev­ery­thing that I’ve been able to ac­com­plish as a player, Wally has been a big part of that. It’s im­por­tant ev­ery­one un­der­stands (this sea­son is) about win­ning, but it’s also about send­ing Wally out on the right note.

“To many of us who come up to Canada, a dif­fer­ent coun­try, he’s been a role model. He taught us not just the game of foot­ball, but the game of life.”

Elim­imian is 31 and has been around the game long enough to know he’s been for­tu­nate to play this long and at this high a level. He’s cast­ing an eye to­ward his fu­ture as well, when­ever his swan song may be.

“It’s crazy. I was a young guy on the team and now … I’m one of the old guys,” he said with a laugh. “There are sto­ries I could tell you and there are sto­ries that I prob­a­bly can’t. For me, it’s about build­ing a legacy; po­ten­tially go­ing down as one of the best de­fen­sive play­ers to ever play (in the CFL). It’s a goal of mine. It’s just for­tu­nate that I’ve been able to play in the CFL and with the B.C. Lions for this long.”

— THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES

B.C. Lions line­backer Solomon Elim­imian will head into the 2018 sea­son as the fran­chise’s leader in de­fen­sive tack­les and to­tal tack­les, but he will be one of the few fa­mil­iar faces af­ter an off-sea­son that saw plenty of turnover, es­pe­cially on the line.

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