VANCOUVER - The fan base of the B.C. Lions not only lost a hero when Geroy Simon was traded to the Saskatchewan Roughriders last month. The provincial champion Cloverdale Bobcats peewee team also lost its coach.
West Vancouver’s Sentinel high school also feared that another move by Lions GM Wally Buono would deprive the Spartans’ reborn football program of its varsity head coach, Paris Jackson.
But that fear was allayed Thursday when Jackson signed a contract extension with the Canadian Football League club.
Now the senior member of the Lions’ receiving corps in the absence of Simon, the 32-year-old Jackson will begin his 11th season with the Lions in 2013 and his first as the varsity coach at Sentinel, a school which is fielding a senior football team in the fall for the first time in eight years.
“I’m sure Paris’s family and kids are ecstatic he’s staying, and so are we,” said Nadia Daher, the Sentinel team coordinator. “The kids love him, and they look up to him.”
Though Jackson was not eligible for CFL free agency, which begins at 9 a.m. Friday, he was looking for confirmation that the Lions still regarded him as a useful player, mindful of his diminished role over the past two seasons. He expressed the desire to move on, despite the disruption it would bring to his home life and high school commitments, believing that he still had at least three more seasons of good football in him.
“I’ve really been impressed over the last year and a half how Paris has grown as a leader and a person,” Buono said. “And I haven’t seen him look as good physically as he is now in probably four years. He’s under 210 (pounds). He’s sleek, motivated and driven. Usually, he’s closer to 230 or 240 at this point of the year. He’s healthier than he’s been for a while. And, hopefully, a healthy Paris can help us to win and make a contribution on the field. If we need somebody to be a leader (after Simon’s departure), hopefully he can take up the baton.”
The personable Jackson played his high school football on the North Shore at Carson Graham and was recruited last year to help revive football at Sentinel, a rival West Vancouver school. He coached a grade eight team in the spring and the jayvee squad in the fall. This year, he committed to coaching the Spartans’ first senior team since the 2005 high school season.
“It’s been a tough time for Paris,” said Sentinel’s athletic director, Glenn Johnston. “He was wondering where he fits in with the Lions. We were both waiting on Wally to see what would happen. Paris has had a big impact on the North Shore football community. It would have been a huge loss if he’d gone elsewhere. My understanding was he was prepared to ask the Lions for his release. He still wants the opportunity to play.”
Jackson was unavailable for comment.
FREE AGENTS -- Six Lions become eligible for free agency Friday, among them offensive linemen Jovan Olafioye, Jon Hameister-Ries, Jesse Newman, linebackers Solomon Elimimian and James Yurichuk and defensive back Cauchy Muamba.
Olafioye, the CFL’s most outstanding lineman in 2012, is still exploring NFL opportunities, Buono said, but he expects the dominating right tackle to make a decision by next week. The Cleveland Browns are said to be interested. “We need clarity,” Buono said. “By early next week we should have a definitive answer.”
The Lions are still awaiting medical clearance on Hameister-Ries, a guard who underwent back surgery in the offseason. If given the green light, he is expected to re-sign with B.C. “He’s not at 100 per cent, but everything is going in the right direction,” Buono said. “It’s just a matter of time.”
Newman, who played last season on suspect knees, is expected to retire. The Lions are moving on without him, even though the five-year veteran hasn’t filed his official paperwork. “It’s not a big deal,” Buono said. “By Friday, he’ll be a free agent anyway, under contract to nobody.”
The Lions have made an offer to Elimimian and Buono said the possibility of having him return is “50-50.” Again, as with Olafioye, there is a likelihood of the linebacker signing with an NFL club, possibly Cleveland. His agent, Bardia Ghahremani, won’t confirm his client’s intention until free agency opens.
“He can’t sign with an NFL team until the day he becomes an FA in the CFL,” Ghahremani said.
Lions have tendered contracts to both Yurichuk and Muamba that were turned down.
“We made very, very good offers to both of them,” Buono said. “If they think there are better opportunties and more money out there, let them go on the market. I feel like we still have a lot of good guys here.”
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