They say it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.
That’s certainly true for Adam Bighill, who dominated at Central Washington University despite lacking what is considered a traditional linebacker’s frame.
As a senior, he recorded 96 total tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles, 3.5 sacks, two quarterback hits, two blocked kicks, one interception, and one fumble recovery. He also scored two touchdowns against Humboldt State, one on an 18-yard punt return and another on a 60-yard reception.
Ten years later, Bighill was named to the Division II All-Decade Team by D2Football.com for his play with the Wildcats, joining NFL stars such as Austin Ekeler, Matt Judon, Malcolm Butler, and Janoris Jenkins.
Bighill attended an open tryout with the B.C. Lions in Portland, Oregon, though he knew his lack of size would be an obstacle to his goal of playing professional football. B.C. scouts recognized his athleticism, smarts, and physicality and offered an invitation to training camp in 2011.
The rest, as they say, is history.
The five-foot-ten, 225-pound linebacker dressed for 99 games with B.C. over six seasons (2011-2016), recording 558 total tackles, 33 sacks, eight interceptions, eight forced fumbles, and a touchdown. He was a five-time West Division all-star (2012-2016), a four-time CFL all-star (2012, 2013, 2015, 2016), and the league’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player in 2015.
Bighill formed one of the best linebacking duos in CFL history with Solomon Elimimian over that period, wreaking havoc on opposing offences. The pair were dubbed “Team 100” as a play on the combination of Bighill’s No. 44 and Elimimian’s No. 56.
“I had Willie Pless for six years in my career and he won five defensive player awards and he looks just like Adam Bighill,” defensive coordinator Rich Stubler told the Vancover Sun in 2012, Bighill’s second season with the team. “I’m just happy as hell [NFL teams] don’t like the smaller guys.”
By the end of his fifth CFL season, the NFL could no longer ignore Bighill’s production. He got his first shot at the league in December 2016 when he worked out for the New Orleans Saints, who later signed him to a contract.
The Montesano, Wash. native was placed on the practice roster after training camp but was activated just one week later. He spent the whole season split between the active and practice rosters, dressing for three games and making one tackle.
Bighill turned 30 midway through his rookie NFL season, which is virtually unprecedented for a league that places such a large emphasis on youth. He was released in May 2018 and turned down a contract offer from another NFL team to sign a one-year deal with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers worth $175,000.
Winnipeg’s defence improved immediately following the addition of the elite defender in 2018. Bighill registered 106 total tackles, four sacks, four forced fumbles, two interceptions, and one touchdown and was again named the league’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player.
Only nine players have won that award multiple times — Dan Kepley, James ‘Quick’ Parker, Greg Battle, Willie Pless, Joe Montford, Cameron Wake, Solomon Elimimian, and Adam Bighill.
Bighill’s production declined in 2019, which is why he isn’t ranked higher on this list. He posted 61 tackles, four sacks, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles in 15 regular season games and added ten more tackles in the post-season.
Though players like Willie Jefferson and Winston Rose put up more impressive numbers, Bighill’s leadership played a huge role in helping the team end a 29-year Grey Cup drought. The future Canadian Football Hall of Fame inductee remains one of the CFL’s best linebackers and a surefire top 100 talent.
3DownNation is unveiling its list of the top 100 active CFL players, a project that will run through December 31, 2020. To read the criteria for player eligibility, click here. The list to date can be found below.
48. REC DeVier Posey, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
49. DL Cleyon Laing, Ottawa Redblacks
50. OL Matt O’Donnell, Edmonton Football Team
51. REC Kyran Moore, Saskatchewan Roughriders
52. SAM Kenny Ladler, Free Agent
53. DE Jackson Jeffcoat, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
54. SAM Dexter McCoil, Free Agent
55. OL Sean McEwen, Calgary Stampeders
56. REC Eugene Lewis, Montreal Alouettes
57. DB Greg Reid, Montreal Alouettes
58. DL Mike Moore, Edmonton Football Team
59. OL Ryker Mathews, B.C. Lions
60. DB Tunde Adeleke, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
61. LB Jameer Thurman, Free Agent
62. QB Matt Nichols, Toronto Argonauts
63. DB Jamar Wall, Calgary Stampeders
64. DB Loucheiz Purifoy, Saskatchewan Roughriders
65. REC Lemar Durant, B.C. Lions
66. OL Brendon LaBatte, Saskatchewan Roughriders
67. OL SirVincent Rogers, Edmonton Football Team
68. QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Free Agent
69. DB/RET Frankie Williams, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
70. DB T.J. Lee, B.C. Lions
71. QB Zach Collaros, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
72. SAM Anthony Cioffi, Free Agent
73. DB Shaquille Richardson, Toronto Argonauts
74. REC Kamar Jorden, Calgary Stampeders
75. OL Darius Ciraco, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
76. REC Jalen Saunders, Free Agent
77. QB Dane Evans, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
78. REC Brad Sinopoli, Ottawa Redblacks
79. RET Janarion Grant, Free Agent
80. DE Avery Ellis, Ottawa Redblacks
81. DE Cordarro Law, Calgary Stampeders
82. DB Brandon Alexander, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
83. OL Jermarcus Hardrick, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
84. DB Branden Dozier, Free Agent
85. SAM Otha Foster, Saskatchewan Roughriders
86. DB Antoine Pruneau, Ottawa Redblacks
87. RB John White, B.C. Lions
88. LB Avery Williams, Ottawa Redblacks
89. LB Jovan Santos-Knox, Free Agent
90. DB Richard Leonard, Calgary Stampeders
91. REC Armanti Edwards, Edmonton Football Team
92. RB C.J. Gable, Free Agent
93. DT Mike Rose, Calgary Stampeders
94. REC S.J. Green, Free Agent
95. DB Mike Edem, Saskatchewan Roughriders
96. DE John Bowman, Montreal Alouettes
97. DB Taylor Loffler, Montreal Alouettes
98. QB Nick Arbuckle, Ottawa Redblacks
99. ST Mike Miller, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
100. DE Chris Casher, B.C. Lions