May 5, 2012

Morris: Just the beginning for Westerman

After several months of travelling a road filled with uncertainty Jabar Westerman finally received some good news about his destination during the CFL Canadian draft.

In a surprise move the B.C. Lions made a draft day trade to bump up two spots, and then selected the defensive tackle from Eastern Michigan University with the second overall pick. The Lions’ desire to claim him left the six-foot-two, 285-pound Westerman searching for words.

“I’m kind of speechless,” the 22-year-old told reporters in a telephone conference call.”I didn’t think it would happen so early. It’s a good start.”

Head coach Mike Benevides said the defending Grey Cup champions didn’t want to lose the chance to add Westerman to the Lions’ den.

“He’s an impact player,” said Benevides.”He fits exactly into our scheme. He’s exactly what we are looking for.

“There was a threat we may lose him. We had the flexibility to move up to get him and we are thrilled. He’s a big guy, a long guy. He makes explosive plays and he’s disruptive at the line of scrimmage.”

Westerman appeared in 23 games over two seasons with Eastern Michigan. He recorded 48 defensive tackles and five sacks for the Spartans.

Until recently Westerman’s draft status was in limbo. He was born in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., but his family moved to Brampton, Ont., where he attended elementary school. He played football at Dodge City Junior College in Kansas before transferring to Eastern Michigan.

To gain his non-import status Westerman had to obtain a letter from a secretary at the school in Brampton, signed by the principal, proving he spent 60 months living in Canada before his eighth birthday.

Even heading into the CFL evaluation camp Westerman wasn’t sure if he would be eligible for the draft.

“It was kind of difficult,” he said.”I didn’t know what was going to happen, even if I was going to be given non-import status. After I found out I was going to be a non-import that really was an accomplishment.

“My whole career has basically been hard work. I had to take the long route. A little extra hard work pays off.”

Westerman wasn’t on many people’s radar heading into the CFL E-Camp but had a great showing. He shot up to the eighth spot on the Scouting Bureau Top 15 Rankings.

Benevides said the Lions were most impressed by watching Westerman’s game tape.

“In terms of a Canadian defensive tackle I haven’t seen many tapes like him in a long, long time,” said Benevides, B.C.’s former defensive coordinator who took over as head coach when Wally Buono retired to become B.C.’s general manager and vice-president of football operations.

“His tape is outstanding. He is explosive and he also fits our scheme.”

The Lions are looking to fill a void after Canadian defensive end Brent Johnson retired following an 11-year career. Benevides believes Westerman can play a role with the team this season.

“The vision is to have six defensive linemen on the roster and he certainly is going to play into that factor right away,” Benevides said.

Westerman is anxious to become a cog in the Lions’ defensive machine.

“It depends on the Lions, how they want me to play,” he said. “I am very adaptable so hopefully I am ready to go.

“I just have to learn the scheme. I’m not sure exactly how long it will take. I am a quick learner, a student of the game. I’ll put the work into finding out the different things I need to know.”

Westerman comes with a pedigree. His oldest brother Jamaal is a linebacker for the NFL Miami Dolphins. Another brother Jawann was a wide receiver at Rutgers and also attended the CFL Evaluation Camp.

While he always wanted to play professional football Westerman admits he didn’t always commit himself off the field. Being forced to attend junior college because of poor grades was a wake-up call.

“I realized I couldn’t breeze by on football,” he said.”I had to focus and do the work.

“It wasn’t that I wasn’t a smart kid. I didn’t take the time on my school work. After I did, I started accomplishing things. I started passing my classes. I said to myself ‘you have all this talent, don’t throw it away.”’

Waterman, who will graduate from Eastern Michigan in December, said he’s never travelled to Western Canada but is looking forward to playing in the CFL.

“I really like the fan support, especially out West,” he said. “There is great fan support out there.”

The Lions used their remaining picks to add to their offensive line.

B.C. selected offensive lineman Kirby Fabien from the University of Calgary Dinos with the seventh pick, then took Matthew Norman from Western Ontario 22nd overall. With their last pick of the day the Lions selected Calgary linebacker Jordan Verdone 37th overall.

Fabien, a six-foot-six, 295-pound Calgary native, started every game at right tackle for Calgary over the last three seasons. He was a Canada West All-Star in 2009 and 2011.

Benevides likes Fabien’s combination of speed and smarts.

“He is a big man and he is light on his feet,” he said.”He is super intelligent about the game. He has a high football IQ.”

Norman, a six-foot-three, 317-pound native of Chateauguay, Que., helped anchor Western’s offensive line for four seasons. Last year he was named an OUA all-star and a First-Team All-Canadian.

Benevides said Norman, who has played centre, could be a future replacement for veteran Angus Reid who turns 36 in September.

“It’s obvious that Angus is at the end of his career,” said Benevides.”When you look at what Matthew brings into the fold . . . he’s smart and he’s tough.”

Verdone is a five-foot-11, 235-pound native of Echo Bay, Ont. A former CIS rookie of the year in 2008, he played two years at Waterloo before transferring to the University of Calgary. He sat out the 2010 campaign then had 32 tackles and three sacks in eight games for the Dinos in 2011.