For Simoni Lawrence, a true Ticat legacy is in sight

Simoni Lawrence doesn’t want to do a phone interview, he wants to FaceTime.

The video link has some distinct advantages, one in particular: it allows him to point his phone’s camera out the large window of his California condo, revealing a spectacular vista of brilliant sunshine, then laugh hysterically at the frozen-tundra he gets shown in return.

Lawrence has one of those infectious laughs, the kind that has a tendency to spread to others in the room. News that he’s signed a contract extension through the 2018 season should certainly put a smile on the face of Ticat coaches, teammates and fans.

The football side of it is obvious. Lawrence has been an elite-level player since virtually the moment he arrived in Hamilton before the 2013 season in what must now be considered one of the most lopsided trades in recent CFL history: Lawrence, quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and offensive lineman Greg Wojt to Edmonton  in exchange for linebacker Nathan Kanya and offensive lineman Carson Rockhill, both of whom are now out of the league.

Even without Masoli and Wojt (the team’s most outstanding lineman in 2013), Lawrence would have been a steal. He’s played in two Grey Cups, been an all-star three times, made 299 tackles and been named the East Division’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player in 2015. He provides on-field leadership, talks trash and is one of the most visible, accessible and likable players the franchise has.

He is not yet among the all-time great Ticat defenders – names like Covington, Zambiasi, Mosca – but with another half-decade of elite play, coupled with that elusive Grey Cup championship and he’ll be in the conversation. It’s in range: almost unbelievably, Lawrence is just 27 years old.

“I want to build a legacy. I see how fans treat Angelo Mosca, like he’s some kind of living super hero, which he is,” Lawrence said. “Football comes to an end for all of us, eventually and at a certain point you start to realize that what you leave behind matters.”

The extension is a much-needed bit of good news for Tiger Town where things have been a bit glum of late. The team struggled to a 7-11 record in 2016, got hosed by some egregiously bad officiating and bounced in the first round of the playoffs. Then defensive coordinator Orlondo Steinauer, one of the league’s bright young coaching stars, left for a glorious opportunity with Fresno State.

Lawrence’s decision to extend is a much-needed vote of confidence, reassurance from a player who has been here for all four years under football uber boss Kent Austin that things are alright.

“I love Orlondo and I’m super happy for the opportunity he’s getting – at least we didn’t lose him to another CFL team,” Lawrence said. “But I have faith in what we’ve built here, what we’re continuing to build.”

Of course, the Ticats also made it worth his while. Lawrence wouldn’t talk specifics, but the contract is more akin to a new two-year contract than it is an extension of the old one. CFL sources said it’s structured in a way that benefits both player and club – likely featuring a hefty signing bonus and a lower base salary – but puts him among the top three defensive players when it comes to take home pay.

“The Ticats show love,” Lawrence said.

He’s laughing again, that great big grin splashed across the tiny screen.

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