VANCOUVER — It seemed at times, Jerome Messam suggested, as if all he’s done in life is run, which is not a bad thing if you are a running back but not good if you are trying to outrun your past.
That stopped, the 25-year-old from Brampton, Ont., said emphatically, when he signed a minimum two-year CFL contract with the B.C. Lions on Friday.
A rookie non-import signing won’t knock hockey off the front page but Messam has been a topic of discussion among CFL teams for some time, drawing attention for reasons other than comparisons made to Sean Millington because of his 6-foot-2, 247-pound frame.
Though fielding scholarship offers from Arizona State and interest from the likes of Southern California and Florida, Messam tried enrolling at Rutgers but was ruled academically ineligible. In terms of school choices, it’s been downhill ever since.
A low point came as a junior when he declared himself eligible for the 2008 NFL draft while at Graceland University, which is not a school devoted to the teachings of Elvis Presley but a liberal arts NAIA institution located in Lamoni, Iowa.
Messam predicted he would be a third-round pick in the draft but only the New York Giants were takers, giving him a mini-camp tryout that ended with a hip injury.
That came after Messam had been kicked out at the North Dakota College of Science and arrested for trespassing on campus.
Despite big rushing totals against inferior foes and bigger speed testing results, teams were running away from Messam.
And the Lions, who only two years ago had to part ways with Josh Boden, felt no differently until Canadian scouting director Mike Benevides met with him last weekend prior to attending a prospects game in London, Ont.
“We got to speak about things in my past I’m not too proud of. Most of the things that happened to me were because I was young, misguided and stupid, basically making bad choices,” said Messam, who had returned to Graceland.
“But football is my passion and it’s what I want to do for the next 10 years of my life.”
In relative terms, that’s roughly the same length of time since the Lions put him on their negotiation list, the 35-man roster which establishes signing protocol for CFL free agents.
“I’m glad to finally get him off that list,” said personnel assistant Neil McEvoy, who brokered one end of the deal for the Lions.
Darren Gill, the agent representing Messam, was more emphatic. “Messam is going to be a star, mark my words,” he wrote in an email.
At the very least — after a winter where their backfield prospects looked positively bleak following the NFL departures of Martell Mallett and Rolly Lumbala, plus the release of Ian Smart — non-import special teams depth has been improved.
“The talent [Messam] has is freakish,” Benevides said.
Though import Jamal Robertson would figure to get the bulk of the running work initially, Messam will split time with Jamall Lee and Andrew Harris, and conceivably could make a full-time car salesman out of veteran Lyle Green, who took a part-time job with a White Rock car dealership in January.
Mickey Dean, who was Mallett’s backup at Arkansas-Pine Bluff, also signed last week following a tryout with the New York Jets. The Lions this week will announce the signings of seven of their nine picks from the recent Canadian college draft, giving them 34 non-imports, as well as a quarterback to replace released third-stringer Zac Champion. B.C.’s first full camp training session goes June 6 in Kamloops.