Lions’ ‘wild card’ pair aim to flush favoured Stamps


Calgary may have trouble figuring out B.C.’s competitive Odd Couple

Austin Collie during BC Lions mini camp at their practice facility in Surrey, BC, April 29, 2015.

Austin Collie during BC Lions mini camp at their practice facility in Surrey, BC, April 29, 2015.

Photograph by: Arlen Redekop, PNG

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One is, by nature, a garrulous sort. Lavelle Hawkins is inclined toward chattiness, accessibility and dancing in the locker-room, almost at the sheer joy of being a football player.

As a wide receiver, his enthusiasm is catching.

The other is, by nature, guarded, buttoned-down, aloof — and the “worst interview” on the team, according to the fast-talking Hawkins. But he can get away by saying rude things about Austin Collie, perhaps the greatest receiver in the history of BYU football, because they were roommates in the NFL, live under the same roof in the CFL and remain close friends off the football field.

“Austin! Reporters say they hate talkin’ to you!” Hawkins chided Collie after a B.C. Lions practice Thursday.

A day earlier, they celebrated Austin’s 30th birthday by taking in the Cirque du Soleil touring show, Kooza, currently playing in Vancouver. It’s the story of a melancholy loner searching for his place in the world, interspersed with acrobatics and the art of clowning.

Sounds a bit like the Lions’ Odd Couple.

“They are the Odd Couple,” agrees veteran Lions receiver Courtney Taylor. “They are way different. They’re total opposites. But that’s how good friendships are. When they first came here, they kind of stuck together. It took a while to get to know them. But you always respect professionalism. And they’re professionals. They’re big additions to our offence.”

Yet, it’s Taylor, another former NFL receiver, who will be the odd man out again this week, as the Lions prepare to face the Calgary Stampeders in the West Division semifinal Sunday at McMahon Stadium.

With Hawkins, Bryan Burnham and Manny Arceneaux returning to the lineup — all were healthy scratches in last Saturday’s 28-7 loss to the Stamps in Vancouver — Taylor, who is so disarmingly cheerful, so relentlessly positive about all things, can’t wait to see them play, even if he won’t.

“We’re the wild card,” Taylor says. “If you look at our season, we were the most up and down team in the CFL. The thing is, we were never consistent enough, in all phases. But, I look at this team and think, ‘If we can get it together, like Toronto did in 2012 (the 9-9 Argos won the Grey Cup over the Stampeders) ...’ I remember that. Nobody wanted to play them. We see people not really giving us a chance. And I’m thinking, do these people not know football? Speaking as an outsider — because I’m not playing — anything can happen.”

An aerial explosion — since rookie quarterback Jonathon Jennings played his first significant minutes in a relief role Sept. 18 in Calgary — should force a rethink of what is possible, Taylor says. In his six starts, from Sept. 26 to Nov. 1, Jennings threw more touchdown passes (15) and completed more plays longer than 30 yards than any CFL quarterback. (He was rested last Saturday).

With Jennings behind centre, Arceneaux has been on fire, with 43 catches for 655 yards in his past seven games. But so has Hawkins. He has 34 catches for 612 yards over that same span. By comparison, Calgary’s Eric Rogers, the CFL’s leading receiver, has 34 catches for 563 yards in a similar time frame.

Hawkins, who played for Jeff Tedford when he was coach of the Cal Bears, was one of the most underrated receivers in the 2008 NFL draft. He was totally off the radar after breaking his arm in the first day of Lions’ training camp this year. It was assumed he might go home to Stockton, Calif. and never come back. Yet, there he was, in Montreal, on Sept. 3, making his CFL debut and scoring his first CFL touchdown on his first catch, a 10-yard throw from John Beck.

“I had it in my mind that I’d be back by September,” Hawkins says. “Even my physiotherapist thought that was questionable. We got the wing strong, and it’s been holding up ever since.”

He loves the way the Lions’ offence has perked up under Jennings. Now that the genie is out of the bottle, Hawkins believes defensive coordinators are going to have trouble putting it back.

“He’s tough to guard. He’s very quick. And that makes it hard for people to know where he’s going,” Jennings says of Hawkins. “He’ll beat you one way one time, and then he’ll beat you a different way the next. It’s tough to figure him out.”

Is this the new normal for the Lions? Tough to figure out? If so, the favoured Stampeders might need an antidote for the affable non-stop talker and his grim Odd Couple roomie, the one who burns inside to succeed.

Austin Collie during BC Lions mini camp at their practice facility in Surrey, BC, April 29, 2015.

Austin Collie during BC Lions mini camp at their practice facility in Surrey, BC, April 29, 2015.

Photograph by: Arlen Redekop, PNG

Austin Collie during BC Lions mini camp at their practice facility in Surrey, BC, April 29, 2015.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive back Maurice Leggett (l) hauls down BC Lions slotback Austin Collie during CFL football in Winnipeg, Man. Thursday July 30, 2015.
BC Lions practice at the Surrey, BC facility Friday, August 28, 2015. Pictured is Lavelle Hawkins (#7).
BC Lions’ Lavelle Hawkins, centre, runs in for a touchdown during first half CFL football action against the Montreal Alouettes in Montreal on Thursday, September 3, 2015.
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