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‘A little more’: B.C. Lions prowling the preseason with Grey Cup purpose

‘We’ve got to do a little more this time around’
Garry Peters noticed something was a little different as his B.C. Lions teammates filtered into training camp last month. Edmonton Elks’ Jermaine Brown Jr., back right, carries the ball as Peters defends during the first half of a pre-season CFL football game, in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, May 31, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Garry Peters noticed something was a little different as his B.C. Lions teammates filtered into training camp last month.

Instead of using camp to get their bodies into peak physical condition, guys were already in game shape when they arrived.

The difference shows how the Lions are already putting in extra work as the team chases the Grey Cup this year, Peters said.

“A lot of guys mindsets are a lot different than its been in the past. We know we’ve always been good but not good enough,” said the veteran defensive back. “So everyone’s kind of taking that approach and that attitude of we’ve got to do a little more this time around.”

The Lions have been close in recent years.

B.C. finished second in the West Division in both 2022 and 2023, only to suffer back-to-back losses to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Western final.

Veterans on the team have learned from those games, said Lions head coach and co-general manager Rick Campbell.

“The thing I like is that I think they all know how hard it is to win in this league,” he said. “You really need to be on point and be all in so to speak to beat anybody in this league. I think our guys understand that.”

Instead of making big free agent acquisitions over the off-season, the Lions’ front office prioritized keeping last year’s squad together.

Vernon Adams Jr. is back for his second full season as B.C.’s No. 1 quarterback after leading the CFL in passing yards last season with 4,769.

He’ll work with some receivers, including Alexander Hollins, who had the second most receiving touchdowns (nine) in the league last year. Keon Hatcher is also expected to make a return to the Lions’ lineup, but missed training camp as he continues to recover from an Achilles injury that required off-season surgery.

B.C. will be without a pair of former standout receivers, though. The club and Dominique Rhymes mutually agreed to part ways in January and the American later signed with the Ottawa Redblacks as a free agent. B.C. also opted not to re-sign fan favourite Lucky Whitehead, who remains without a contract for the 2024 season.

Who fills those spots remains to be seen.

“(The receivers group) is going to be a mix of old and new,” Campbell said. “We’re going to need a guy or two who are new to us or new to the CFL to step in. And we definitely have a group of guys who are going to compete for those spots.”

B.C. also lost a major player on defence, with Canadian defensive lineman Matthieu Betts signing with the NFL’s Detroit Lions. Betts was a nightmare for CFL quarterbacks last year, leading the league in both sacks (18) and forced fumbles (four).

One notable addition to the Lions’ lineup is running back William Stanback. After winning a Grey Cup with the Alouettes last season, the 29-year-old native of Hempstead, N.Y., signed with B.C. as a free agent in February.

“I felt like this place would be a better fit for me, my running style,” Stanback said. “From the outside looking in, B.C. was doing a lot of great things the last few years. And I saw myself in that and wanted to be a part of it and do whatever I can to help win.”

At six feet and 233 pounds, Stanback brings size that Campbell said the front office has been looking to add to the roster.

“He just kind of fit in and has been working really hard. He seems like a motivated guy,” the coach said. “Sometimes when you get on a new team, it gives you kind of a breath of fresh air on both sides, for us and for him. And we’re hoping that pays off.”

The move reunites Stanback and Adams. They played together in Montreal from 2018 until 2022.

“We just had that connection,” Adams said. “I was just happy to get him over here with us to help boost our running game. He’s picked up the offence nice. He’s looking good.”

The pair are friends off the field, too, with families that enjoy hanging out together.

It’s a bond that could pay off in football, Adams said.

“When you have that personal relationship with some of these guys … they’ll play harder for you,” he said.

“He’s got a Grey Cup and that’s all he’s talking about, trying to help me get my Grey Cup. And I would do the same thing for him.”

2023 record: 12-6, second in West Division, lost to Winnipeg in Western Final

Did you know?: The Lions are celebrating their 70th season and will mark the milestone with a series of special home games. The celebrations include a concert by 50 Cent at the home opener on June 15, followed by the first ever Touchdown Pacific, where the Lions will host the Argos in Victoria, B.C., on Aug. 31.

Key additions: RB Stanback (Alouettes), DL Christian Covington (NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers)

Key losses: DL Betts (NFL’s Detroit Lions), WR Rhymes (Redblacks), WR Whitehead (currently unsigned)

Players to watch: Stanback, Covington, WR Justin McInnis, WR Travis Fulgham

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