Hardware chase still drives Lions’ Elimimian after ‘miracle’ recovery

It is a measure of greatness that Solomon Elimimian could discover something to achieve that goes beyond everything he has already done in seven seasons as a linebacker with the B.C. Lions.

And there is no mistaking the fact when you look into the eyes of the 30-year-old there’s still something other than winning another Grey Cup on his career bucket list.

Comparatively, everything Elimimian has done so far has been easy. A top CFL rookie award. Winning the Grey Cup as a 25-year-old. Becoming the first defensive player in history to be also named most outstanding. A contract that when it was signed made him the highest-paid defensive player of all time.

A second top defensive player honour this year would seemingly pale in comparison, yet now that it has become closer to reality it would appear as if Elimimian would cherish the accomplishment with a passion akin to what he does to get his arms around an opposing ball carrier.

The thought Elimimian could return to something even approaching outstanding player form less than a year after his struggle to recover from Achilles tendon surgery is frankly something short of mind-boggling.

Elimimian may not match the 143 defensive tackles he recorded in 2014, though at 128 he still has a chance with a herculean performance for the Lions when they take on the Saskatchewan Roughriders at B.C. Place Stadium Saturday with a home playoff game potentially on the line.

As a result, he may be competing against himself in the next round of balloting by the Football Reporters of Canada, some of whom may only rate Elimimian’s 2016 performance against past seasons and not the league’s other nominees this year.

In fact, however, Elimimian may be having a more complete season through 17 games, with better totals in sacks, forced fumbles, tackles for a loss and fumble recoveries than in 2014.

Division finalists like Charleston Hughes of Calgary and Almondo Sewell of Edmonton have an edge on Elimimian in sacks. Winnipeg nominee Maurice Leggatt, who missed a game this season, has him in interceptions.

Add up the overall defensive plays made by Elimimian, however, and it shouldn’t even be close. Then there’s the thought of what the Lions linebacker needed to do in order just to walk again.

“It was a miracle,” Elimimian said this week of his recovery.

A miracle that was accomplished by envisioning what it would be like to hold another top defensive player award and the Grey Cup again.

“It’s something I think about every morning,” Elimimian said. “I was a little naïve thinking how easy (the rehab) would be but this is what helped me go through that.

“When you break your foot they tell you you’ll be healthy in a few weeks. (With an Achilles repair) there’s no timetable. You could come back but you might not and might not be the same player, and that’s the hard part mentally to accept.”

Elimimian admitted there were times during his recovery last winter that he even doubted whether a full recovery was possible, despite the fact he often trained against the advice of his medical support staff.

Coach/GM Wally Buono, who was in the process of deciding whether to rework Elimimian’s contract, was skeptical too, at least until he took a look at the rehab workout videos the linebacker would send him during the winter.

Once viewed though, Buono and his defensive coaches remained convinced they could use Elimimian as they once did before the injury when he and Adam Bighill formed one of the best linebacking pairings in franchise history.

As it stands now, Elimimian can be regarded as the best linebacker in club history, passing Barrin Simpson for career tackles earlier this year. He’s only 14 behind the club record held by Dante Marsh.

“A lot of times in life you measure success not by what you achieve but what you overcome. For Solly to be leading the league in tackles coming off a ruptured Achilles is a remarkable accomplishment,” said linebackers coach Chris Tormey, who coached the Montreal tandem of Bear Woods and Winston Venable before joining the Lions staff this season.

All it took, Elimimian said, was plenty of reassuring talks with his father, Isaac, who was born into back-breaking poverty in Nigeria and saw education as a means to a new life, plus the vision it could be done.

“It’s like running a marathon,” he suggested. “You know it hurts but you have this vision of you holding a Cup at the end. Who can say I can come back from this at a high level?”

Now that he has though, there are new challenges ahead. Elimimian doesn’t have a family as yet but he looks forward to the day he will.

“I want to share that experience with my son one day,” he continued. “One day I’ll have a son and I’ll tell him ‘you can do this.’ Everyone wants to be a hero but nobody wants to pay this price.”

The reward, he said, would be a second top defensive honour and fourth overall of his career, leaving only Willie Pless, Tony Gabriel, Doug Flutie and Russ Jackson with more individual wins in league history. It is another measure of greatness, until Elimimian can conjure up a future goal that is even higher.

LIONS TALES: In addition to the passing yardage plateau, a couple of other individual milestones possibly await a couple of Lions veterans. Arceneaux needs five receptions to hit the 100-catch mark for the first time. Solomon Elimimian, who has a five-tackle edge on Montreal’s Bear Woods for the lead this year, needs 13 tackles for the all-time franchise mark held by Dante Marsh. A B.C. win Saturday would also result in the Lions finishing second for only the third time in their 63-year history. The West Division semifinal would be held Nov. 13 at B.C. Place Stadium.


Lowell Ullrich has covered the Lions since 1999 and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2014. He is also a contributor to TSN1040.