Lions keep hold of their cornerstone
Elimimian signs extension through 2019 as club retools the support group around him
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.”
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.