November 14, 2012

School’s Out: Norman rejoins Lions for Western Final

Rebecca Rempel/BC Lions


VANCOUVER — Matt Norman had to get special permission to take a break from his student-teaching practicum this week.

He had an unusual – but legitimate – reason.

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The B.C. Lions need him to help provide depth for a wounded offensive line in Sunday’s Western Final against the Calgary Stampeders. He started the season with the Lions but left in the middle of the campaign to pursue his teaching certificate at the University of Western Ontario.

Even Norman, who was teaching Grade 10 civics at Lucas High School in London, Ont.,  can’t quite believe that he got a call from the club last week to put down his textbooks, pick up his playbook and return to B.C. for the big game.

“Ever since I was young, I’ve been following the CFL,” said Norman, who was chosen by the Lions in the third round (22nd overall) of the 2012 CFL draft. “So to actually be in the Western Final game is beyond words.”

The 24-year-old from Chateauguay, Que., took part in practice Wednesday at B.C. Place Stadium and is expected to play a prominent role against the Stamps. Veteran guards Jon Hameister-Ries (back, knee), Dean Valli (knee) and Jesse Newman (knee) are battling injuries that have bothered them since the first week of training camp.

In addition to teaching in the classroom, Norman stayed football-ready by helping coach a Lucas High School squad and his former Western Ontario Mustangs while also working out on his own.

“Certain days, I’d go through the drills with the guys, show them how to do it, and then the last couple weeks, I just started running,” said Norman.

The Lions officially suspended him after they gave him permission to leave so that he could get his teaching qualification in one year before Western’s program expands to two years in 2013-14.

He was added to the team’s 46-man roster Wednesday, and coach Mike Benevides and general manager Wally Buono will have to shuffle some bodies, likely on the offensive line, to put him on the 42-man squad for the game.Benevides was impressed with Norman’s first practice since he left following a game in Montreal on Aug. 31.

“He looked outstanding,” said Benevides. “You take a look at just him stepping in, he’s the same person. He obviously did a lot of work physically. He looks good. It was great to see him. We got him to stand up in the (dressing) room, and the room just burst. He’s ready to go, which is great.”

Benevides feels comfortable throwing Norman into such a big game because of the way he made an impact earlier in the season. He was expected to increase his playing time gradually, but was pressed into action as a starter in the first regular-season game against Winnipeg and played extensively while switching between right and
left guard over the eight contests in which he played.

“Obviously, he hasn’t played in a little while now since he has left us, but I feel very good about it, because I know who he is,” said Benevides. “I know the character he is. I know the tough, technical player that he is.”

Norman will miss three days of his teaching practicum this week. If the Lions qualify for the Grey Cup, he will have to get permission again to take more time away from the classroom.