March 10, 2019

Steinberg’s MMQB: Lulay a Lion through and through

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

It is rare to see a player remain with one team throughout a career in this day and age in any professional sport. It’s even more uncommon in football, perhaps the most cyclical sport of all. When turnover is the norm, even at quarterback, seeing Travis Lulay start and finish his CFL career with the BC Lions was nice.

Lulay has been one of the easiest players to cheer for over the last decade, whether he’s been in the Most Outstanding Player conversation or biding his time as BC’s backup. The guy has been a consummate teammate, professional, and ambassador for the CFL since arriving in 2009.

What I really appreciate is how even keeled Lulay remained even as his career ran the gamut of highs and lows. Remember how Lulay entered the league a decade ago, because it wasn’t like he burst onto the scene as a superstar. Instead, Lulay had to bide his time and endure his lumps until he earned the right to start on a weekly basis in 2011.

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Once he got his hands on the starting role, though, things took off in a hurry. After a slow start to his first full year atop the depth chart, Lulay led the Lions to an 11-2 finish, a Grey Cup Championship, and an MOP nod to complete a banner campaign.

Lulay followed up with another really good season in 2012, but things started to go sideways from there. He suffered multiple significant knee and shoulder injuries in the years to come, which would have derailed careers for many other players. It was different for Lulay, though, because he just kept putting in the hard work in rehab and kept coming back to play.

These weren’t easy injuries to come back from, either. Rehabbing torn knee ligaments is a grueling process, for instance, but it wasn’t enough to keep him away from the game and the team he loves. It was admirable and impressive at the same time.

Because he was forced off the field for so much of the back half of his career, Lulay was relegated to backup at times, which is not always easy for an elite level quarterback to accept. It wasn’t a problem with Lulay, though, and he was an outstanding partner to Jonathon Jennings over the last few years.

That’s why it was so cool to see Lulay return to the starting job for a couple stretches last season. I know things didn’t necessarily end with a storybook ending, but Lulay earned his shot to start games again. His difficult road back just made the story that much more compelling.

It all comes back to one thing: Lulay’s connection with Vancouver and the Lions. A west coast guy by birth, it’s no surprise Lulay meshed with Van instantly, but it went way beyond that. There was a loyalty there that doesn’t exist very much anymore, on both sides. Lulay kept coming back, but only because the Lions kept bringing him back.

All of this is to say I’m really glad Lulay finished his career having only worn one uniform. It just wouldn’t have been the same had Lulay suited up in other colours. I’m glad loyalty still exists, because it’s a perfect way to compliment Lulay’s great career.

An important stretch begins

The month of March kicks off an important stretch of time across the league. You’ll start to see a ton of lead-up coverage to May’s 2019 CFL Draft here, and that all starts Monday with the first of three regional scouting combines. It all leads up to the CFL National Combine presented by New Era later this month. The next few weeks are crucial as teams make their final preparations for draft day.

For those unfamiliar with the combine process, or for those who don’t pay a lot of attention, what happens with these draft eligible athletes during these sessions can make a huge difference.

For some draft eligible players, an invite to one of the Western, Eastern, or Ontario regional meets could parlay into a spot at the National Combine, which is a huge opportunity. Or, for players very likely to be drafted, a good showing can go a long way in boosting their final position.

Take a few recent cases of an outstanding combine translating to a high end pick. It was just last year when Mark Chapman rose through the ranks in meteoric fashion. Initially unranked in September rankings, Chapman finished as the number two prospect by CFL Central Scouting in their final rankings; he’d eventually go number one overall to Hamilton.

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Calgary’s Nick Statz is among players looking to impress at the Western Regional Combine Monday (David Moll/University of Calgary)

Chapman put together a stunning combine performance coming out of Central Michigan. His 4.57 time in the 40 was one of the fastest of the draft class, while he finished atop the table in both the three-cone drill and broad jump. Suffice to say Chapman’s showing helped move him up the ledger; he jumped from ten to two between Central Scouting’s midterm and final rankings and ended up being the first receiver taken first overall since 2007.

Fellow receiver Brian Jones followed a similar path two years prior. Initially unranked, Jones burst onto the scene during his senior season at Acadia and put himself very much on the radar coming into the 2016 National Combine. His performance there moved him into a different stratosphere, though.

Jones killed it at the combine and finished top ten in the 40, three-cone drill, bench press, and shuttle drill, which he just happened to take top honours in. As a result, Jones jumped to ten in Central Scouting’s final rankings from 18 on the midterm list. That translated even higher come draft day; the Argos took Jones fifth overall.

These upcoming regional combines aren’t the be all and end all, nor is the National Combine in a few weeks. Some of 2019’s top prospects will end up going high regardless of how they perform this month, if they even decide to take part. But for those looking to up their stock, a golden opportunity lies ahead. Let’s see who takes advantage.