What about the zoo?: new Elks’ receiver Kenny Lawler content in decision to leave Winnipeg for ‘more scenic’ Edmonton

Photo courtesy: CFL.ca

While he steered clear of hot takes about the value of a visit to the zoo, former Winnipeg Blue Bombers receiver Kenny Lawler believes his new football home in Edmonton has a little more shine to it than the Manitoba capital.

“I’ll say it’s a lot bigger than Winnipeg, a lot more scenic,” the Edmonton Elks’ star offseason acquisition said following his first practice Thursday. “It’s fresh up here. The hotel’s been taking great care of us, so I’m pretty sure we got great people in Edmonton as well.”

Of course, that might simply be a matter of perception. Lawler arrived in camp late after his car broke down and was stuck for three days in Butte, Montana, which could make almost any city seem glamourous. Nevertheless, the Pasadena, California native is looking forward to exploring all that Edmonton has to offer in the coming weeks.

“Right now we can’t get as out as much, I’ve got to catch up and handle a camp, but when my family comes up and we get our spot and everything, we’ll get days where we’ll be able to go experience it a little bit,” Lawler laughed.

“We’ll probably go to the mall, definitely gotta go there. Probably go do a little hiking and stuff, take my son to some parks. We’ll be able to get out and experience a lot more.”

It isn’t West Edmonton Mall that lured Lawler away from Winnipeg, however. The six-foot-three, 197-pound pass-catcher received a mega-deal worth $300,000 to join the Elks in free agency, becoming the highest-paid non-quarterback in the CFL.

Head coach and general manager Chris Jones made acquiring the all-star receiver an offseason priority, all with the goal of restoring Edmonton’s “City of Champions” moniker. That’s something Lawler knows a little about after winning back-to-back Grey Cups with the Bombers, but he can’t take anything for granted.

Not a cent of his massive deal is guaranteed until after he makes the active roster and Jones’ ruthless reputation for personnel decisions means that every rep in training camp matters.

“The expectations are always the same coming in. My first expectation is to make the team,” Lawler said. “Everyone here is competing for a certain spot and I am too. Nothing’s changed, it’s still football and still a competitive mentality coming to camp for everyone.”

Once his job is secured, the focus will turn to the more important task long-term.

“I believe in being the number one team in the West, week in and week out,” he added. “We have to prepare to go 1-0 each week, to do the best that we can to give us the best opportunity to get that first-round bye in the playoffs and have home-field advantage so we can get the easier road to the Grey Cup.”

That was a level of dominance that Lawler grew to expect last season, as the Bombers ran roughshod over the entire league. Getting Edmonton to the same place should be a touch more difficult, especially given that the rebuilding franchise has no clear starting quarterback.

In a few weeks’ time, he’ll receive his second Grey Cup ring from Winnipeg, enough to make any player question their decision to leave such green pastures. Lawler has no such reservations.

“I’m excited to see [the ring], but I’m more excited to be here,” he said. “That’s in the past. I’m going to be happy to get a reminder about the achievements that I’ve accomplished, but right now it’s on to the next.”

He won’t have to wait long to test his new team’s mettle, as the Elks head to Winnipeg on May 27 for their first pre-season game. While Lawler is looking forward to seeing his old teammates, there will be no sentimentality.

“It’s still business. We’ve got a job to do over there and we’ve got to execute and get a win,” Lawler stressed. “Those are my brothers over there. I consider them friends and family, but we’ve got 60 minutes to go to work and these guys right here are who I’m going to war with.”

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.