New Lions thrilled to touch down on West Coast


Moore, Johnson, Stewart say location, connections played part in signing in Vancouver

BC Lions receiver Nick Moore during the CFL team’s practice in Surrey Monday, July 8, 2013.

BC Lions receiver Nick Moore during the CFL team’s practice in Surrey Monday, July 8, 2013.

Photograph by: Ric Ernst, PNG

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Hometown discounts, in which players sign or stay put for less than market value, are rare, Wally Buono says.

They’re so rare the general manager of the B.C. Lions has trouble remembering the last time he was able to take advantage of one. On the contrary, it’s more often the reverse. In years past, Buono has missed out on free agents who preferred to stay in the East, closer to family, off-season job opportunities and for basic convenience.

This week, geography and camaraderie began to work in the Lions’ favour.

Receiver Nick Moore, running back Jeremiah Johnson and defensive back Brandon Stewart — three veterans, all aged 29, and all signed by the Lions after the start of CFL free agency — cite familiarity and West Coast connections as a factor in bonding with B.C.

Moore, who left two years ago in free agency for more money in Winnipeg, had 76 catches, 899 yards and four touchdowns last season for the Blue Bombers, despite missing three games with an injury.

Still, he lost leverage on a new contract when the Bombers anted up to sign free agent Weston Dressler, and Moore realized he might have to move on to a place he’d already been.

“Absolutely, the familiarity aspect is something I took into consideration,” said Moore, who first joined the Lions in 2011. “Wally was my first coach in the CFL, some of the same teammates when I left are still there, they have a tradition of winning and positive vibes. (Travis) Lulay texted me and said, ‘Are we going to be reunited again?’ It’s a cool opportunity to get back with him.”

Nor is Moore unfamiliar with the Lions’ presumptive starting quarterback, Jon Jennings. Both he and Jennings hail from Westerville, Ohio, passed through Westerville South high school and trained together on the same fields where the slender, mobile and graceful athletes sought higher purpose.

“Jon? I call him my little brother,” Moore said. “We go back to when he was throwing me the ball (Moore was at the University of Toledo) while he was still in high school. Great guy. Great talent. A lot of upside. It’s going to be an exciting year.”

For the Ohioans, the excitement extends to matters beyond football.

Moore is to be married today in Clearwater, Fla. Jennings has nuptials planned for Dec. 31, when the Lions’ quarterback is to be wed in Columbus, Ohio.

Already married with a six-year-old daughter and one-year-old son, the home-loving Johnson is keen on being close to Eugene, home of the University of Oregon, where the Los Angeles native has lived since his playing days with the Ducks. Eugene is almost seven hours’ driving distance from Vancouver, yet a relative pittance of a commute when compared to Ottawa.

Johnson scored nine rushing touchdowns for the Redblacks in 2015 before a dislocated foot ended his season. The emergence of William Powell as his replacement compromised his clout in contract talks with Ottawa.

“When you start talking business, and you don’t meet in the same chapter, me and my agent decided to scan the free agency market,” Johnson explained. “That’s what sparked my interest in being a part of the Lions. I wouldn’t say it’s (geography) the sole reason. But I am a West Coast kid. My wife (Shanel) is from Oregon. All her family is there. They’re all happy and satisfied with the decision I made.”

Stewart, with nine years of CFL experience, has lined up at both cornerback positions and comes to the Lions after two seasons with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He adds to B.C.’s Seattle connection in the secondary. Halfbacks T.J. Lee and Ryan Phillips also were born and grew up in the Emerald City.

“Obviously, I would loved to have had my former team offer me something,” Stewart said.

“If I have to move on, the chance to come back home, for my family to see me on a regular basis, that kind of changed everything. And Mark Washington (Lions defensive co-ordinator) is a coach I’d love to play for.”

Playing for an East Division squad, Stewart said he had to scramble for as many as 30 tickets when his network of family and friends from Seattle came to see him play on his sole Vancouver visit each season. That dilemma is now multiplied by at least nine, but never mind.

“There’s reassurance, looking in the stands and seeing your family,” he said.

“It’s the pride factor. I’m truly representing my family and honoured to get that opportunity with the Lions.”

Home again. Almost.

BC Lions receiver Nick Moore during the CFL team’s practice in Surrey Monday, July 8, 2013.

BC Lions receiver Nick Moore during the CFL team’s practice in Surrey Monday, July 8, 2013.

Photograph by: Ric Ernst, PNG

BC Lions receiver Nick Moore during the CFL team’s practice in Surrey Monday, July 8, 2013.
Nick Moore left B.C. for Winnipeg two years ago, but will be back in a B.C. Lions uniform this season.
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