Lokombo vows: ‘I’m a more fo­cused Bo’

Line­backer’s change in at­ti­tude has him feel­ing proud to ex­cel in the CFL game

The Province - - SPORTS - JJ ADAMS jadams@post­media.com

He was 230 pounds when he came into the league, and Bo Lokombo still weighs there­abouts. But he’s a lot lighter th­ese days, be­cause he’s no longer car­ry­ing a mas­sive chip on his shoul­der.

The Ab­bots­ford prod­uct wasn’t drafted af­ter four sea­sons play­ing line­backer with the Ore­gon Ducks, a shoul­der in­jury send­ing him tum­bling down the charts, and he ended up play­ing three sea­sons with the B.C. Li­ons be­fore try­ing his hand at the NFL again.

He bounced around the prac­tice ros­ters of the Bal­ti­more Ravens, Oak­land Raiders and San Fran­cisco 49ers for all of 2017, but found him­self back in B.C. this year. The 6-3, Congo-born de­fen­sive player show­cased his abil­ity to be an elite de­fender, record­ing a team-high 87 to­tal tack­les, four sacks and two in­ter­cep­tions — the lat­ter two num­bers lead­ing the lineback­ing corps — and was the team’s nom­i­nee for Out­stand­ing Cana­dian.

“The first cou­ple of years, com­ing out of Ore­gon, my ini­tial thought was ‘Oh my god, I’m at Ore­gon, I’m play­ing D1, I want to go to the league (NFL),’ ” the 28-year-old said.

“So when I got hurt and had to come to the CFL, I was a lit­tle bit mad at my­self, like ‘what did I do wrong?’ So I came in with the at­ti­tude, the wrong frame of mind, the wrong mind­set, the first cou­ple years.

“Com­ing back was crazy. Foot­ball, in gen­eral, it’s a lot of up and downs. So be able to come back and play for the home team was great for me. I had one of my bet­ter sea­sons this year be­cause I was so fo­cused.”

Lokombo took his NFL ex­pe­ri­ence to heart, in­te­grat­ing the lessons he learned into his day-to-day ap­proach to the game. He trained — hard — and came into last off-sea­son with a fresh men­tal­ity, with spe­cific per­sonal goals. It paid off.

His 71 de­fen­sive tack­les ranked be­hind only cor­ners T.J. Lee and Garry Peters, de­spite start­ing just the past five games. He’s made some game-chang­ing plays, in­clud­ing his first two ca­reer in­ter­cep­tions in back-to-back games against Mon­treal and Ot­tawa in Septem­ber.

“I wanted to go down to the States and prove my­self, and prove that I could play with the big boys,” he said. “(The NFL ex­pe­ri­ence) hum­bled me. If any­thing, it taught me that it’s all busi­ness ...

“It’s a big busi­ness, and it’s re­ally hard to get into, be­cause it’s such a small (num­ber of play­ers) and such a high de­mand. You can be re­placed in a heart­beat. That’s prob­a­bly the tough­est thing. No one is re­ally spe­cial.

“You re­ally have to work hard, and have a lit­tle bit of luck on your side, too. So when I came back this fourth year, I took it all in. And that’s why they see a big change in me. I’m a more fo­cused Bo.”

Lokombo helped a de­fence miss­ing fu­ture Hall of Fame line­backer Solomon Elim­imian into a ball-hawk­ing, high-pres­sure unit, as B.C. led the league in pass knock­downs, tied for tops in in­ter­cep­tions (21) and sacks (45).

Big, fast and strong, Lokombo’s ver­sa­til­ity al­lowed Li­ons’ de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Mark Wash­ing­ton a de­gree of free­dom in his play-call­ing.

“The word I think about when I think of him is ‘ma­tur­ing,’” Wash­ing­ton said. “He’s get­ting more and more ma­ture ev­ery day, phys­i­cally, men­tally, and I think his life is start­ing to round out a lit­tle more, and that just al­lows him to come here and play.

“He’s start­ing to be­come a bet­ter foot­ball player be­cause he’s think­ing the game. Phys­i­cally, he’s al­ways been freak­ish. But now, you put that with the ma­tu­rity and the mind, and now you have the de­vel­op­ment of a very good foot­ball player.”

The same can be said of the de­fence as a whole. Their mon­u­men­tal task — no Western squad has crossed over to the East and made a Grey Cup — be­gins against a team that topped the league in net yards (405.6) and scored 28.5 points per game, third-most in the CFL.

The Ticats (8-10) av­er­aged just over 30 of­fen­sive points against the Li­ons (9-9) in their two meet­ings this sea­son, with B.C. mak­ing an epic come­back in the only over­time game of the year, win­ning 35-32, then fol­low­ing it up with an epic thud the fol­low­ing week at Tim Hor­tons Field, los­ing 40-10.

For a team that went 2-7 on the road, and av­er­aged 30.2 points against away from B.C. Place, Sun­day rep­re­sents a huge chal­lenge.

“I think a lot of peo­ple are go­ing to count us out. The odds are against us,” Lokombo said. “Ob­vi­ously, we haven’t been good on the road. But it’s dif­fer­ent this time.

“It’s never been done be­fore, but this team is so re­lent­less, we’ve grown so much over this sea­son. If any team could do it, it’s prob­a­bly us.”

— THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES

Li­ons’ Bo Lokombo, left, ad­mits he first came to the CFL from NCAA ball with ‘the wrong frame of mind, the wrong mind­set, the first cou­ple years.’

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