Arakgi aces dirty job as Lions' special teams gladiator

 

As B.C. battles for playoff berth, those with ‘unglamorous’ roles are key to team’s success

 
 
 
 
Jason Arakgi of the B.C. Lions is nine tackles away from becoming the CFL’s all-time leader in special teams tackles. His Lions can clinch a playoff berth this weekend if they beat Toronto on Friday and Montreal loses in Edmonton on Sunday.
 

Jason Arakgi of the B.C. Lions is nine tackles away from becoming the CFL’s all-time leader in special teams tackles. His Lions can clinch a playoff berth this weekend if they beat Toronto on Friday and Montreal loses in Edmonton on Sunday.

Photograph by: Arlen Redekop, PROVINCE

Miller, Millington or Maurer? Rogers, Roberts, Reinson or Rashovich? Arakgi or O’Shea?

Naming the greatest special teams tackler in Canadian Football League history might not spark a great gridiron debate in your living room or local watering hole.

After all, young men fantasize about throwing touchdown passes, catching them or making game-saving tackles. They don’t grow up wanting to make a name for themselves in the game’s most thankless job: special teams.

Not even Jason Arakgi of the B.C. Lions, nine tackles away from becoming the CFL’s all-time leader in special teams tackles, envisioned such a scenario when he broke into the league in 2008.

“The dream never died. I always wanted to be an every-down linebacker,” Arakgi said Tuesday after a Lions’ practice. “At the same time, there’s a point in my career when I realized, ‘This is who I am. This is what I’m doing.’ If that’s the case, I wanted to be the best one to ever do it.”

In terms of numbers, he’s getting close. With four special teams tackles last Friday in a 40-13 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Arakgi is tied for fourth place all-time with Walter Spencer, his 175 career STT within hailing distance of all-time leader Wade Miller (184).

That’s the same Wade Miller, a former fullback, who is president and CEO of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, proving that one of the least celebrated players on the football field can morph into one of the better compensated executives in Canadian football.

“When my godfather, Dave Ritchie, was coaching the Bombers (1999-2004), I used to be kind of a water boy for him,” Arakgi explained. “Wade Miller was playing with the Bombers at the time. Now, I’m chasing his record. It would be a real special thing if I’m able to get there.”

The job is dirty, unglamorous but so important that the Lions have been spending an extra amount of time in practice the past few weeks trying to correct special teams play that had been worse than ordinary.

It reached its nadir Oct. 10 against Winnipeg, when the Lions were undone by fumbled punts, blocked punts, faked punts and direct snaps in a 29-26 loss to the Blue Bombers, a result based almost entirely on B.C.’s special team errors and Winnipeg’s knack for exploiting them.

Bordering on desperation — as if their jobs and a playoff berth hang in the balance, which they do — the Lions’ special teamers seemed to contest every hard yard of turf against the Tiger-Cats. Chris Rainey had a 67-yard kickoff return to set up a touchdown; Richie Leone averaged close to 50 yards a punt and limited the escape routes of dangerous returner Brandon Banks; and the kick and punt coverage, led by Arakgi (four tackles) and Bo Lokombo (three), mopped up in cold-blooded fashion.

“Richie did a nice job of pinning them down deep,” said head coach Jeff Tedford. “The punt protection was better, and the coverage against Banks was really important. The guys did a really nice job of containing him.”

While eyes glaze over when football people hold court on the subject of field position, there’s nothing dull about the driven special teams gladiators who determine it.

In his second pro season, Lokombo has carved out an identity as special teams specialist who flies to the football through a thicket of bodies to make the important primary tackle. He is tied with Edmonton’s Deon Lacey for the league lead in STT (22).

“Arakgi’s my guy,” Lokombo says. “He took me under his wing from Day 1. He showed me how we do things around here. He’s had a great influence on my career. And he’s a great leader for the team. I definitely respect him for what he’s done.”

Tedford is expecting no less than another comprehensive effort this Friday from his 6-10 Lions, who are battling for a playoff spot, in Toronto against the Argos.

“I think, as far as all three phases of the game go, that (Hamilton) was our most complete game,” he said.

Perhaps, the start of something special?

mbeamish@vancouversun.com

Twitter.com/sixbeamers

 
 
 
Font:
 
 
 
 
Jason Arakgi of the B.C. Lions is nine tackles away from becoming the CFL’s all-time leader in special teams tackles. His Lions can clinch a playoff berth this weekend if they beat Toronto on Friday and Montreal loses in Edmonton on Sunday.
 

Jason Arakgi of the B.C. Lions is nine tackles away from becoming the CFL’s all-time leader in special teams tackles. His Lions can clinch a playoff berth this weekend if they beat Toronto on Friday and Montreal loses in Edmonton on Sunday.

Photograph by: Arlen Redekop, PROVINCE

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
We encourage all readers to share their views on our articles and blog posts. We are committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion, so we ask you to avoid personal attacks, and please keep your comments relevant and respectful. If you encounter a comment that is abusive, click the "X" in the upper right corner of the comment box to report spam or abuse. We are using Facebook commenting. Visit our FAQ page for more information.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Your voice