VANCOUVER — Jovan Olafioye is grateful that the B.C. Lions have welcomed him back with open arms after he considered a number of NFL options.
But the gratitude is definitely mutual. And now that the tackle has spurned NFL offers to return, Lions general manager has fewer worries on how to revitalize an injury-riddled offensive line.
“I felt it was the best opportunity – to come back to somewhere somebody loves you,” said Olafioye.
When Olafioye lingered around the Surrey, B.C., practice facility locker-room on the day the Lions cleaned out their lockers last November, many wondered whether he would be back – and what his departure would mean to the banged-up offensive line.
“If I’d lost (Olafioye), that would have been a huge loss for us,” said Buono.
But Olafioye’s re-signing means the Lions now have three pillars in place – himself, centre Angus Reid and Ben Archibald, who are all former all-stars.
Olafioye, a 25-year-old Detroit native who is entering his fourth CFL season, was named the league’s most outstanding lineman in 2012 and has earned league all-star selections the past two campaigns and West Division all-star status in all three.
Also, veterans Jon Hameister-Ries (back) and Dean Valli (knee) are recuperating from off-season surgery, while Matt Norman, a guard ticketed as Reid’s eventual replacement at centre will be around for a full season after missing a large chunk of his rookie campaign to complete his teaching studies. “It’s good that (Hameister-Ries) and (Valli) are coming back, because they were a big part of our success even in going to the Grey Cup (in 2011),” said Olafioye.
He said Reid’s return will really help the unit out, and with Norman in tow, the offensive line is “ready to go.”
But, even after receiving a number of NFL offers and witnessing perks like multiple lounges, video games and shoes galore in the American circuit’s dressing rooms, Olafioye did not feel ready to leave the Lions.
“I went to Cleveland and did a physical,” he said. “I’m already here, and in the NFL, you’ve got to do so much stuff just to try to get your foot in the door. My foot is in the door here.”
He is the second Lion in recent days to stay put instead of pursuing the NFL dream. Linebacker Solomon Elimimian also re-signed with the Lions on Friday, rather than take another NFL shot after he completed the 2012 season with B.C. following his release from Minnesota and Cleveland.
Elimimian has not ruled out another foray south of the border in the future, but Olafioye plans to stay with the Lions for “a long time.”
“That’s pretty much it,” said Olafioye. “I’m not even going to think about the NFL no more.”
Buono thought he had lost Olafioye after the 2011 season, when he signed with the St. Louis Rams. But the Rams voided the contract because Olafioye, who suffers from high blood pressure that is hereditary, was off his medication and failed a physical.
His health has gained considerable public discussion – but all of it has been moot, because he has never missed a game in three seasons with the Lions.
Despite the Rams’ concerns, his high blood pressure was not an issue last season as he relied on advice from his father, a Detroit-based doctor who specializes in internal medicine, and the team’s medical staff. Olafioye stayed on his medication and had monthly check-ups.
Dr. Salewa Olafioye, who attended Tuesday’s session and also suffers from high blood pressure, said his son’s health is under control and does not affect his ability to play. Olafioye’s health was not an issue with Buono, either, when the time came to re-sign him.
“I would be more concerned if I wasn’t, maybe, up to speed on this,” said Buono, adding he had “tremendous comfort” that the lineman was being properly cared for.
Buono also feels comfortable with the state of his offensive line, which could also feature the addition of University of Calgary guard Kirby Fabien, a 2012 first-round draft choice who chose to re-sign with the Dinos after exploring NFL options.
“As you say, there’s three pillars that are solid,” said Buono. “There’s some good young guys that are coming into the fold (and) the veteran guys (coming back). I just feel confident from what I’ve been told in where they’re at medically.”
Buono said he expects Valli to be medically cleared to play in the first week of training camp. But the lineman already has a full range of motion back, and his recovery is ahead of schedule .