He never lacked skill but what has changed this year for B.C. Lions' wide receiver Shawn Gore is how he thinks the game.
On a team stacked with potential Hall-of-Famers, Gore is among the next generation of CFL stars. The 25-year-old from Toronto has always had the size and speed to be a threat. Now he's learning to use his brain.
"It's like a chess game,'' explained the affable Bishop's graduate.
|On Higher Ground|
With star receivers Geroy Simon and Arland Bruce out with injuries, Gore stepped up to the tune of 235 yards over his last four games, finishing the season as the Lions' leading receiver with 720 yards.
"It's how you retain information throughout the game.
"If you are forgetting everything that went on in the first quarter about coverages, different guys, then you're not getting any better in the fourth. I pay attention to the little things, like how the defence might play on a certain play.''
With slotbacks Geroy Simon and Arland Bruce both sidelined with injuries down the stretch, Gore ended the regular season as the Lions' leading receiver with 61 catches for 720 yards and five touchdowns. Those numbers were below his total of 60 catches for 836 yards last season.
Numbers don't tell the whole story. The third-year player was hampered by a hamstring injury early in the season. When he did play, Gore showed a confidence he lacked last year.
"I don't think I'm more confident,'' Gore said. "I think my confidence is better placed.''
At times last season Gore tried too hard. He was ten gallons of energy squeezed into a seven-gallon container.
''It was a little too much excitement, a little too much energy,'' he said. "I was going too hard all the time.
"This year the game has slowed down. I understand what is happening. I don't punch it. I don't force the issue. I let it come to me, I let it open up.''
At six-foot and 198 pounds Gore makes a big target. He has strong hands and blazing speed. Having the tools is one thing. Making the best use of them is the challenge.
"He is learning to run the routes properly,'' said general manager Wally Buono. "People know he's fast but it's not always about the speed.
"It's about getting open. He's getting better at that. He's learning to put himself in a position where he protects the ball.''
Gore also is learning patience can be a weapon.
"I'm watching what the defence is doing, knowing where the holes will be, instead of running through it because I want the ball so bad,'' he said.
"That's a learning experience.''
Drafted 10th overall in 2010, Gore joined the Lions midway through the season after a tryout with the Green Bay Packers. He appeared in eight games, mostly on special teams.
Last year he stepped into a starting role. His potential was obvious as he finished second among Lions receivers, but at times Gore seemed to fight the ball.
"He had a bit of a struggle early on,'' said quarterback Travis Lulay. "You learn a lot about a guy when stuff like that happens.