How far can Shawn Lemon climb CFL’s all-time sack list?

Photo: Neil Noonan/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Shawn Lemon reached an impressive milestone this past week when he became the thirteenth player in CFL history to reach 100 career sacks. Given the sack totals of those in front of him, it wouldn’t be surprising if Lemon moved further up the list in the future, possibly even this season.

Grover Covington — 157.0
Elfrid Payton — 153.0
Bobby Jurasin — 140.0
James ‘Quick’ Parker — 139.5
Charleston Hughes — 136.0
Joe Montford — 135.0
John Bowman — 134.0
Vince Goldsmith — 130.5
Stewart Hill — 126.0
Tyrone Jones — 110.0
Rodney Harding — 105.0
Odell Willis — 101.0
Shawn Lemon — 100.0

The 35-year-old has recorded eight sacks over eleven games this year, putting him on pace to tie or surpass Odell Willis for twelfth all-time before the regular season is over. Assuming he’s back with the Montreal Alouettes in 2024, Lemon could realistically surpass Rodney Harding and Tyrone Jones to crack the top ten of the CFL’s career sack list.

“I’m genuinely happy that I’m here in this amazing organization. Everything happens for a reason and I felt like it was a perfect fit for Montreal and a perfect fit for myself as well. I love being around these guys, love competing with them every day and wouldn’t want to go to battle with another group,” said Lemon, who was a free agent for the first seven weeks of the season.

“(I’ve faced) a lot of adversity in my career. I remember when I was at six sacks and I got cut from a team that season. I remember when I had 92 sacks in B.C. and I got cut. It’s just about persevering and believing in yourself when no one else does. I’m thankful for my support system, my family at home that’s always in my corner and that’s always my biggest fans.”

Montreal’s two starting defensive ends at the beginning of the year were Nick Usher and Jamal Davis II, both of whom have since been released. Lemon took over one starting role near the end of July, while Lwal Uguak, a first-round pick in the 2023 CFL Draft out of Texas Christian University, has filled the other. The 23-year-old from Edmonton has flourished under Lemon’s leadership, recording sacks in two of his last three games.

“I couldn’t be happier for [Lemon] personally and proud of him. I think we’re very fortunate and thankful to have him in our building as a leader and the defensive player that he’s been,” said head coach Jason Maas.

“To have the ability towards the end of your career to still be able to go out there and produce like he has, it’s been tremendous. That longevity, it’s a little bit of everything that it takes to get to there, a lot of perseverance, a lot of mental toughness, physical toughness, and obviously you have to have a tremendous amount of ability to get to 100.”

The only active player ahead of Lemon on the league’s all-time sack list is Charleston Hughes, who has remained unsigned since he became a free agent last off-season. The 39-year-old recorded four sacks as a member of the Saskatchewan Roughriders last season, though he started only three games and was a healthy scratch five times. It appears unlikely that Hughes will play another regular season game in the CFL, though he has yet to formally retire from the league.

It’ll be a long time before we see another CFL player reach 100 career sacks. Almondo Sewell has recorded 69 sacks over his eleven-year career and is the only other active CFL player with more than 60. As a 36-year-old who plays along the interior of the defensive line, it’s clear Sewell, who was a college teammate of Lemon’s at the University of Akron and now plays alongside him with the Alouettes, will fall well short of 100 on his career.

Lemon’s teammates celebrated his milestone raucously along the sideline and he was awarded the game ball in the locker room following a 29-3 win over the Ottawa Redblacks on Monday. Despite being a member of the team for only the past three months, it’s clear the rest of the Alouettes have fully embraced Lemon as one of their own.

“Everybody’s fired up for him. He’s a guy that came into our locker room halfway through the year. Sometimes it’s a little bit awkward when you have a guy come in halfway through the year but that guy has done nothing but put his head down and worked. He’s been a great leader for us,” said quarterback Cody Fajardo, who was a teammate of Lemon’s in Toronto and B.C. and helped recruit him to Montreal.

“I know what kind of pass-rusher he is, I know what kind of leader he is and to get him here in this locker room with a lot of young, talented guys, it’s always great to have those older, veteran players that have done it at such a high level.”

Of the twelve players currently ahead of Lemon who are eligible for the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, only Vince Goldsmith and Stewart Hill have yet to be enshrined. Though it might be too early to start debating whether or not the two-time Grey Cup champion deserves to be inducted someday, Lemon made it clear that he expects to terrorize plenty of other opposing quarterbacks before his career is over.

“I knew it was coming,” said Lemon. “I see myself getting over 100 sacks, so it’s not big deal to me. I’m thankful for the milestone but there’s more work to do.”

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.