B.C. Lions' Solomon wise to the ways of the game
Linebacker Elimimian lost his job after NFL bid, but he's found his role as Leos' unifying influence
VANCOUVER — One year ago, Solomon Elimimian was a shooting star on his way to another galaxy, a playmaking dynamo whose run to the Grey Cup with the B.C. Lions might be the last we saw of him in the Canadian Football League.
When he signed with the Minnesota Vikings in January, he couldn't have envisioned that he'd be back in Vancouver in the fall and preparing for another West Division final by running special teams in practice.
Not only did Elimimian lose out on the National Football League, he lost out on the Lions. He came back, but his job didn't. The 26-year-old, fast and smart and powerful, is probably still one of the best middle linebackers in the CFL. But he's second-best on the Lions, playing behind his friend, Adam Bighill, who won Elimimian's old job at training camp and isn't giving it up.
A year ago, Elimimian was a focal point on a surging Lions' team. Thursday, he was almost an afterthought. But not to his teammates, nor head coach Mike Benevides.
"I made an example of him today in practice," Benevides said after the Lions trained at BC Place. "We were going through a special-teams segment and he was as good, as intense, as fundamentally sound and as fast as anybody could be.
"I congratulated him on his practice and he said: 'Coach, I know what time it is.' "
It's time to win Sunday against the Calgary Stampeders. It's time to win a Grey Cup next weekend in Toronto, which would make the Lions the first repeat CFL champions from Western Canada since the 1982 Edmonton Eskimos.
Time for Elimimian to make a difference, even if it's chasing down punt returners.
Elimimian had 100 tackles last season. He was merely the CFL rookie of the year the season before.
"It's undeniable that somewhere within his heart and soul, there's a level of disappointment," Benevides continued. "But it does not affect his play. The interesting part is seeing him react with Adam. When I sit at the back of the room and watch, they're (interacting) the same way and yet their roles are entirely reversed. It hasn't affected Solomon in the least. It hasn't created bitterness. He's been a great teammate."
The coach of every talented team demands egos be checked at the door. It doesn't look like it was a hard sell for Benevides.
Beyond Elimimian, Lin-J Shell, an all-star last year in Toronto, has been the sixth defensive back all season, playing mostly in passing situations. There is so much talent on the defensive line that the Lions have the luxury of rotating impact players in and out. Before they were hurt - importantly, both are back for the West Final -- Hall of Fame slotbacks Geroy Simon and Arland Bruce didn't complain that quarterback Travis Lulay spread the ball around.
"We're trying to make history," Elimimian explained of the unselfishness. "It's very special. We're trying to create a legacy. This is part of it. It's a bond that we have forever as a team and a family. The money comes and goes, but the rings and championships are forever. But even more important than that are the memories. Memories of the whole journey, the days when it was tough and we had to endure. Those are the things that I will look back on."
There were quite a few of those days for Elimimian after the Vikings released him in August when the undersized linebacker, slowed by a leg injury, was unable to compete for a roster spot. The Cleveland Browns looked at Elimimian for a few minutes before the Nigerian-born Californian returned to the Lions to fulfil the option year on his CFL contract.
It was obvious initially that Elimimian still wasn't healthy, and became apparent that his head wasn't fully ready, either.
After speculation about whether defensive coordinator Rich Stubler would create a scheme to get Bighill and Elimimian on to the field together, Elimimian instead settled into a supporting role.
Benevides said the player's intensity and performance increased considerably in the last month.
"That transition occurs for everyone," the coach said. "I understood what he was going through because I'd seen it happen many, many times. You have to remember that this was a championship team a year ago (and) he was a huge part of it. He still is. He's tremendously liked. Guys know that he's an outstanding football player. He's done a good job (with) the transition because he likes being here."
Veteran cornerback Dante Marsh said: "I deal with Solomon outside football; I have respect for him as a person. People make too much of the NFL experience and when you come and go. I had two opportunities. I would love for every young guy, especially guys from the States because that's their dream, to go through that NFL experience. But at the end of the day, football is football. Solomon plays football."
Elimimian is expected to try the NFL again as a free agent after this season. But he could probably sign a contract to remain in the CFL and, given good health, have a long, lucrative career in Canada.
"The older you get, the more you understand a lot of things are out of your control," he said. "The only thing you can control is your attitude and effort. All you can do is the best you can.
"Regardless of what I've been through, it's been positive and something that I've learned from. I feel like, you know what, at the end of the day I'm in a good position and we're in a good position as a team."
Only his position on that team has changed.
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