Standing on the sidelines, Aaron Grymes kept playing the different scenarios through his head. None of them were good.
With his wife and children watching in the stands, Grymes injured his left knee in the BC Lions’ second-last game last year in Edmonton against the Eskimos. The 29-year-old defensive back battled back tears when told it was an ACL, his first major injury in six CFL seasons.
“You get nervous because you hear about everybody who has had these injuries before and how it can affect them,” Grymes said. “You start to remember this is a six-to-nine month injury. There’s that uncertainty with my future and how things would go.
“Would it just be an ACL? Would it be total knee reconstruction? All kinds of things like that start to creep into your mind.”
Grymes had surgery on Oct. 31. Now, almost five months later, his recovery is on track. Back in his off-season home of Moscow, Idaho, he’s able to run and do exercises to strengthen the muscles in his leg.
“I’m very encouraged about where I’m at in the recovery process and definitely looking forward to hitting the field this upcoming season,” he said.
Exactly when Grymes can play again remains a question mark.
“I’ve never dealt with a serious injury like this before,” he said. “This is my first time going through it.
“My goal would be to be healthy at some point during training camp. I’m not going to put a date on when I think I’ll be back because you don’t want to create expectations. I want to be back when I feel 100 percent and I feel that I can attack the game the way that I’ve attacked it for the past seven years.”
In the days immediately after his injury Grymes reached out to players like Brandon Rutley and John White, BC running backs who’ve recovered from knee injuries, as well as former Eskimo teammate J.C. Sherritt, who returned to play after missing most of the 2017 season with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
“When I was on the phone with J.C. a couple of days later, he said ‘you know, you’ve had your 24 hours to feel bad for yourself. Now it’s time to start getting ready and getting back on the field,’” Grymes said with a chuckle. “That helped a lot.”
Knowing he had the support of family and friends, Grymes began feeding off his competitive nature.
“I was ready to attack the process,” he said. “I’ve learned to kind of fall in love with the process. This was just going to be a new challenge for me, something that I was looking forward to, kind of competing with myself.
“I want to come back better and faster than anyone else has. I feel like I have a lot of football left in me. I’m prepared to play the game like I’ve played it and to be able to get to where I was two hours before the injury.”
As he became physically stronger, Grymes became more mentally confident.
“A little bit of self-doubt can creep into your mind about what your knee is capable of doing,” he said. “Being able to get over that mental hurdle, just as much as the physical hurdles, is very key.”
Grymes had 54 tackles and one interception in 16 games during his first season with the Lions. Prior to coming to BC, he played 66 games with the Eskimos. He helped Edmonton with a Grey Cup in 2015, the same year he was a CFL All-Star.
Grymes spent 2016 with the NFL Philadelphia Eagles before returning to the Eskimos in 2017.
Signed as free agent, Grymes was part of the boatload of talent that arrived in Vancouver last year along with quarterback Mike Reilly, receiver Duron Carter and offensive lineman Sukhn Chungh. Instead of sailing into the playoffs, the Lions’ season capsized with a 5-13 record.
“I think it was a combination of things,” Grymes said trying to explain what went wrong last year. “I can’t point at one thing and I’m also not going to blame one area. Collectively, we weren’t where we wanted to be in multiple areas.”
Missing the playoffs resulted in head coach DeVone Claybrooks being fired and replaced by Rick Campbell. In an attempt to bolster a defence that was middle of the pack, the Lions added free-agent defensive tackle Micah Johnson, along with defensive lineman Ryan Brown and Cameron Walker.
Grymes believes the changes have made the Lions better.
“I do believe that we are going to be on the same page, the leadership is going to be strong,” he said. “The expectations of the players and coaches is going to be there, the kind of things that it takes to win a Grey Cup.
“The feeling around the facility is … we’re going to get back to where we want to be. We’ve seen what it’s like to be at the boom and we don’t want to be there again. We don’t want to be the laughingstock of the CFL again.”