BIGHILL GOES BACK INTO THE LIONS’ DEN

Plenty of emo­tion as he re­turns with Bombers to face Van­cou­ver

Winnipeg Sun - - FRONT PAGE - TED WYMAN

VAN­COU­VER — He grew up in the Pa­cific North­west, went to col­lege in the same re­gion and played his first six pro­fes­sional sea­sons within miles of the ocean.

You might say Adam Bighill feels right at home in Van­cou­ver.

The 29-year-old linebacker didn’t re­ally leave the area un­til 2017, when he signed a con­tract with the NFL’S New Or­leans Saints. He then signed with the Win­nipeg Blue Bombers just be­fore train­ing camp this year.

He’ll play his first game as a mem­ber of the op­po­si­tion in Van­cou­ver Satur­day night when the Bombers face the B.C. Lions and there are sure to be plenty of emo­tions along with that.

“It means a lot,” the man known as “Big­gie” said of re­turn­ing to the city he still calls home. “My wife’s fam­ily is from here, I built my ca­reer here, I have a lot of friends and fam­ily here, I was very in­volved in the com­mu­nity here.

“I just re­ally en­joyed be­ing right (here), close to home. I’m a north­west guy.”

Bighill grew up in the area around Olympia, Wash. (he was born in the town of Mon­te­sano), about a four-hour drive south of Van­cou­ver. He went to col­lege at Cen­tral Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity in Ellings­burg, about 4 ½ hours from Van­cou­ver.

So it wasn’t a huge ad­just­ment for him to take his tal­ents just north of the bor­der in 2011. The cli­mate was the same, the ter­rain was the same and the way of life was sim­i­lar, al­beit in a much larger city than he was used to.

“I’m not re­ally from a big city so be­ing in Van­cou­ver at first was a big ad­just­ment but over my time be­ing there, it very much be­came home,” Bighill said.

“It was very con­ve­nient for me and my fam­ily and over­all it was just a great place for me to be liv­ing and play­ing. As far as fam­ily and friends coming up for games, it was no prob­lem at all.”

He ob­vi­ously has strong feel­ings for the city and the Lions or­ga­ni­za­tion — he even ad­mit­ted last week that the Lions were his first choice when he re­turned to the CFL from his NFL stint — but now he’s with the Bombers and he’s mak­ing a big im­pact on this team from the Cana­dian flat lands.

Just a week ago, Bighill showed Bombers fans ex­actly what he can do on a foot­ball field — and showed B.C., fans ex­actly what they’re miss­ing — by coming up with six tack­les, two in­ter­cep­tions and a touch­down in a 41-19 Win­nipeg win against the Lions.

“I think it was a lit­tle sweeter to have a game like that against your old team,” Bighill said. “That made it a lot more fun for sure. We were all look­ing to see who was go­ing to get the bet­ter of who, just with how well we know each other, so it was good to be able to have the brag­ging rights for the week.”

The Lions had to make the dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion not to sign Bighill when he was re­turn­ing from the NFL. The Lions al­ready had their lineback­ers set — with peren­nial all-star Solomon Elim­imian lead­ing the way — and were up against the salary cap.

It had to sting just a lit­tle more than usual to see their for­mer star pick­ing off two passes and rum­bling to the end zone with one of them.

“Those were gimmes,” Lions head coach Wally Buono said Fri­day at B.C. Place. “I could have made those plays.

“Adam’s a great foot­ball player be­cause he can do ev­ery­thing. He can blitz, he can tackle, he can play the run, he can play the pass, he can play high, he can play low. He’s a very, very ver­sa­tile foot­ball player.

“Get­ting two in­ter­cep-

tions? I got two in­ter­cep­tions in a game once. I wasn’t Adam Bighill though.”

The Bombers have quickly moulded their de­fence around Bighill, who in­stantly be­came a team leader when he first stepped onto the field at train­ing camp.

The re­sults so far in­clude 27 tack­les in four games (which puts him on pace for a ca­reer-high 121 tack­les this sea­son), plus the two in­ter­cep­tions.

“He’s a very ac­tive player,” Bombers coach Mike O’shea said. “I don’t think we’ve even got­ten through the full gamut of what we can do with Big­gie yet. We cer­tainly love what we’ve seen so far. He had a whale of a game and if he keeps on do­ing that on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, it’s go­ing to be fun for ev­ery­body to watch. He’s dif­fer­ent in the meet­ings too. He’s def­i­nitely lead­ing and that’s an im­por­tant piece that we wanted to add.”

Bighill and his wife Kristina have a home in Van­cou­ver and many of his best friends wear Lions colours. Many of those friends were happy to see him again last week­end in Win­nipeg, at least un­til the game started.

“It wasn’t that fun to watch Adam last week,” Lions quar­ter­back Travis Lu­lay said.

“Adam’s a good friend of mine. His fam­ily was down at the house in the off-sea­son and we’re close.

“He had a long run here, be­came a pro here. He earned his stripes. Now he’s the con­sum­mate pro. He’s a stud of a player and a great dude, a guy I was proud to call a team­mate for a lot of years.”

An­other good friend of Bighill’s is Solomon Elim­imian, who lined up be­side him at linebacker — Elim­imian in the mid­dle and Bighill on the weak side — for six sea­sons.

“See­ing him in that Blue Bombers uni­form, you can’t re­ally pre­pare your­self for it,” Elim­imian said. “When you see it, it’s kind of a shock but then you’ve just got to go and play foot­ball.

“That’s the na­ture of the busi­ness. It’s hard to see good play­ers leave, it’s hard to see good peo­ple leave, but he’s do­ing a good job over there.”

As you would ex­pect, Elim­imian wasn’t the least bit sur­prised to see Bighill have a big game last week. Bighill has al­ways been a play­maker and that won’t change just be­cause he’s on a dif­fer­ent team or in a dif­fer­ent de­fen­sive scheme.

“The big­gest thing for him is his com­pet­i­tive na­ture and com­pet­i­tive drive,” Elim­imian said. “That’s why we bonded so well. We kind of came from the same place. Guys who were doubted, guys who were seen as un­der­sized for pro­fes­sional foot­ball but guys who over­came the ob­sta­cles to get where we are to­day. You tell us we can’t do some­thing, we’re go­ing to go out there and prove that we can.”

Bighill was named the CFL’S most out­stand­ing de­fen­sive player in 2015, an hon­our Elim­imian has earned twice be­fore him­self. While they were a for­mi­da­ble duo in the same lineback­ing corps, it makes sense for them each to be lead­ing their own de­fence. That Bighill was avail­able to the Bombers just be­fore train­ing camp was al­most a gift.

“You don’t get to be MVP of the league by just be­ing an or­di­nary per­son,” Bombers de­fen­sive co-or­di­na­tor Richie Hall said. “And I think as each week goes by he be­comes more com­fort­able re­gard­ing the scheme that we do, the play­ers that he’s play­ing with and tak­ing his abil­i­ties and im­ple­ment­ing them into the scheme of things. He’s just go­ing to con­tinue to get bet­ter, we’re go­ing to con­tinue to get bet­ter de­fen­sively and hope­fully we see it on the foot­ball field.”

If Bighill has any­where near as big of an im­pact on Satur­day’s re­match against the Lions as he had last week, it could be a long night for the B.C. of­fence. But you get the im­pres­sion, Lions fans will be happy to see Bighill again, af­ter so many years of im­pres­sive ser­vice.

That feel­ing is clearly mu­tual.

“It’s go­ing to be a fun en­vi­ron­ment,” Bighill said. “For­tu­nately, play­ing them al­ready at home, it takes a lit­tle bit of that awe fac­tor out of it.

“But it’s go­ing to be fun to be in front of a lot of the fans that I played in front of for a long time in my ca­reer.”

See­ing him in that Blue Bombers uni­form, you can’t re­ally pre­pare your­self for it. When you see it, it’s kind of a shock but then you’ve just got to go and play foot­ball.

Solomon Elim­imian

JOHN WOODS/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Blue Bombers’ Adam Bighill (left) shares a laugh with team­mate Chris Ran­dle. Bighill faces the B.C. Lions — the or­ga­ni­za­tion he spent six pro­duc­tive sea­sons with — for the first time in Van­cou­ver tonight when the Bombers and Lions clash in a re­match from last week­end.

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