KAMLOOPS – If Matthew Norman or the BC Lions coaching staff had any intentions of easing the 23-year-old into the pros and allowing him to steadily develop, plans may have changed.
Training camp hadn’t even been a day old when veteran non-import guards Jesse Newman and Dean Valli suffered injuries, only to be followed by John Hameister-Ries a week later, leaving a gaping hole on the interior of the offensive line.
Norman, one of the most promising young offensive linemen in May’s CFL Canadian Draft, has been thrust into action at the guard position, taking the majority of the reps with the Lions main offensive unit.
The Lions selected Norman in the third round (22nd overall) and will now lean on him, at least in the short term, to fill the void..
“It comes with the territory more than anything. It is an unfortunate situation for the guys that went down but I am just trying to do my best in their absence”, he told CFL.ca.
“The good thing about it is I can take reps with some of the guys that are starters. They are obviously terrific football players and are trying to help me out the best they can. It is a little bit of baptism by fire, just getting thrown in there, but you try and be as prepared as possible and the guys that I am around make it easier for sure.”
The sudden injuries to line has forced the defending Grey Cup champs to do some shuffling in personnel including signing former Edmonton Eskimos right tackle of eight years Patrick Kabongo.
The towering 6-foot-6, 364-pound veteran doesn’t only give the Lions some depth but experience as well. However, despite Kabongo’s arrival, the Lions could be forced to entertain the option of starting Norman come the season’s opener against Winnipeg, should the injury situation either not change or worsen.
“It is a little overwhelming but it’s a part of the game”, Norman said about potentially starting in his CFL debut. “You just have to keep plugging away and make sure that you are prepared when the time comes.”
Not trying to get too far ahead of himself, Norman knows that training camp is a long process and the first hurdle comes Wednesday night when the Leos open up the pre-season against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
What has impressed him the most is how the teammates who he is replacing are aiding in his preparation for the first true test of training camp which is the game itself.
“They help me in meetings more than anything, especially Dean Valli”, he continued. “He gets me sitting next to him and gives me pointers when we are watching film.”
The longhaired lineman played four seasons at the University of Western and anchored a Mustangs line that led the country in rushing while earning an OUA All-Star selection in the process.
Perhaps Norman’s most imposing challenge is having to try and make the quantum and now rapid leap from the CIS game to the pros.
“The difference is huge in every aspect of the game in terms of speed, size and strength along with the scope of the playbook. Everything is augmented quite a bit. It has been an adjustment but hopefully I will keep on managing.”