Johnson: Lemon’s transformation from Eskimos cast-off to Stamps’ defensive star is remarkable

 

Defensive lineman bought into DeVone Claybrooks’ system and has engineered a fantastic campaign that’s included a Stamps record seven forced fumbles

 
 
 
 
Calgary Stampeders defensive lineman Shawn Lemon is the team’s top defensive player nominee a year and a half after the Edmonton Eskimos released him outright.
 

Calgary Stampeders defensive lineman Shawn Lemon is the team’s top defensive player nominee a year and a half after the Edmonton Eskimos released him outright.

Photograph by: Derek Leung, Getty Images

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From experience, the big man who answers to Biscuit understands it’s not always a straight-line to the quarterback. There are often large, difficult-to-budge obstacles involved in getting to the desired destination.

And in helping someone else get there, as well.

“The ironic thing,” DeVone Claybrooks is saying, “is that there we had to pull some teeth without the use of novocaine. There were definitely a few bumps on the road to here.”

A schoolmasterly glance over at defensive end Shawn Lemon.

“This is the sanded-down version you’re seeing now.”

On Wednesday, Lemon, cut absolutely free by the Edmonton Eskimos only a year and a half ago, was named Defensive Player of the Year nominee on the best regular-season-team in the CFL, the Calgary Stampeders.

He’s come of age.

But it’s been a process.

Black Stampeder ball cap on slightly askew, per usual, Claybrooks, the Stamps’ D-line coach, unfurls a low, rumbling laugh.

“Oh, there were definitely a few yelling matches.”

Brow furrowed for emphasis, he then stabs a finger at the air, voice rising. “’You ain’t gonna do it my way, you ain’t gonna do it at all! GET IT?!’

“Thing of it is, it’s like a light bulb. Once they see your way works, and the light goes on, the trust factor kicks in. It’s normal. You’re asking a person in an individual-based-pay business to give in to a team concept; to throw out basically everything that’s got him to this level and learn a new technique, a new craft.

“That’s never easy.

“Once they buy in, like he has, that’s when you’re able to grow it.”

Oh, it’s grown.

With Friday’s date at BC Place remaining on the regular-season docket, Lemon’s one forced fumble away from the league record of eight (setting a Stampeder standard in the process), while establishing career highs in tackles (30) and sacks (11). With bookend bounty-hunter buddy Charleston Hughes wearing that boot-cast for weeks now, Lemon has emerged as an indisputable leader, a key cog, on the resistance side of the line of scrimmage.

“He’s just gotten better,” says co-ordinator Rich Stubler. “He came in as basically a non-starter and, through his play, earned his spot. He’s got a long ways to go yet but he’s becoming a pretty good player.

“He’s done a lot for us.

“He’s let us play on that side of the field. When Charleston got hurt, he took that position and did what he could with it. We’re very appreciative of what he’s done.”

And while predatory B.C. linebacker Solomon Elimimian, a new seasonal tackles record topping his resume, is a literal shoo-in to be voted top defensive player out of the West for the CFL Awards, there can be no denying the influence of Shawn Lemon on Calgary’s 14-3 record.

“Playing a lot? It helps you get into a rhythm,” he says. “It helps you get more confident in your rushes; you know what works and what doesn’t work. You know your opponent better. It’s a small league.

“You can never have too much knowledge. These guys have been around a while. Coach Claybrooks played the game, coach Stubler’s been coaching for 34 years. I want to soak up knowledge from them. Never get to a point like you know it all.

“I’ve always been a player that’s had a lot of confidence in myself. I knew what I could do in the right opportunity. Now? Try not to play out of my game. Just continue with what’s working for me. Coach Stubler has put me in a position to make plays. I’ve just got to continue to trust in the game plan.”

When asked if he’d perfected the ball-hawking strip that has him flirting with the CFL record book, Lemon answered with a grin.

“I wouldn’t say ‘perfected.’ No, not at all. I’ve only scratched the surface on what I can do as a player.

“There is technique to (ball stripping). There is a structure. Dr. Stubler has that for us. There’s a science to it. He’s the professor of our class.

“I am a good student. I do my studying well.”

That studiousness, that willingness to adapt, to buy in, has transformed him from a castaway to a marquee man. It’s been a process, far from a straight line to the quarterback, but Shawn Lemon at last seems to have his target dead in his sights.

“We knew,” says Claybrooks, “that he had everything you need; that all the tools were in the shed. We knew the clay and everything was there. It was just a question of trying to mould it.

“He’s not the finished article yet. There’s still some moulding left to be done.”

The big man known as Biscuit permits himself a look of utter contentment.

“But when it is . . .”

George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at gjohnson@calgaryherald.com

On Twitter at GeorgejohnsonCH

 
 
 
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Calgary Stampeders defensive lineman Shawn Lemon is the team’s top defensive player nominee a year and a half after the Edmonton Eskimos released him outright.
 

Calgary Stampeders defensive lineman Shawn Lemon is the team’s top defensive player nominee a year and a half after the Edmonton Eskimos released him outright.

Photograph by: Derek Leung, Getty Images

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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