HAMILTON — When linebacker Larry Dean hit the open market this off-season, there was sure to be a number of suitors who were vying for his services.
In the end, he decided to head to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to join one of the best squads in the Canadian Football League.
“The opportunity presented itself awkwardly enough,” Dean said to Ticats.ca. “I was doing an interview earlier and I said that the Ticats fans prayed to the football gods.”
While the Ticats added several new faces to the fold, Dean is a man that the Hamilton faithful are all too familiar with already.
The Tiger-Cats had an outright dominant campaign in 2019, serving as the class of the East Division with a 15-3 record while going a perfect 9-0 at Tim Hortons Field. They earned a bye to the Eastern Final and managed to walk past the Edmonton Eskimos in that game to punch their ticket to the 107th Grey Cup presented by Shaw in Calgary.
The team looked ready to go throughout the week leading up to the big game, but their parade plans were put on hold by a staunch defensive effort from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who were led by pass-rushing nightmare Willie Jefferson.
With the Ticats still looking to buck their championship drought, Drew Allemang and Shawn Burke got to work on further improving the roster heading into the 2020 season.
Hamilton had some needs heading into free agency. Receiver Bralon Addison departed in order to pursue an opportunity in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings while several key contributors on the defensive side of the ball were set to hit the open market.
They were able to re-up those players to new deals, first agreeing to terms with Ted Laurent before getting Dylan Wynn back under contract. With Justin Tuggle departing for Edmonton, the focus was on the second level of the defence. They made a big splash, adding Dean to solidify the MIKE linebacker spot while also adding 25-year-old SAM linebacker Patrick Levels on Feb. 11.
Simoni Lawrence will assume the WILL position to make up one of the best linebacking cores in the league. When you add in the likes of Ja’Gared Davis, Wynn and Laurent on the defensive line, Hamilton now possesses arguably the best front seven in the league while also maintaining the majority of their all-star-riddled secondary.
“Simoni was very instrumental in pulling some strings,” Dean said of landing back with the Ticats. “He was my go-to-guy. We were talking back and forth and (Hamilton) made it happen.”
Dean’s credentials in the CFL speak for themselves. The Tifton, Georgia native joined the Tiger-Cats back in 2016 following stints in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings, Buffalo Bills and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
He had an instant impact for the Black and Gold during his first season north of the border, posting 78 tackles and one special team tackle along with two sacks one interception and a pair of forced fumbles while appearing in all 18 games.
Dean followed up that strong season by being named an East Division All-Star in both 2017 and 2018, respectively. After three seasons in Hamilton, he made the move out West, joining the Edmonton Eskimos for the 2019 campaign.
He played every game for the Esks this past season, accumulating 86 tackles, three special teams tackles and a sack, earning him West Division All-Star honours.
Over his four years in the league, Dean has failed to miss a game. In 72 contests, he has posted 365 tackles, eight special teams tackles, six sacks, three interceptions and five forced fumbles.
With their new additions, the Tiger-Cats will be looking to go a step further than they did in 2019 by taking home the title this time around. They’ve certainly helped their chances with the addition of Dean, who knows exactly what the organization expects. He’ll be able to bring the energy, leadership ability and game experience to the table while locking down the middle of the field in 2020.
“I’m just trying to be the best version of Larry,” Dean said. “I just want to bring in the tutelage as far as leadership and just being coachable, accountable and leading by example.
“I’m just really excited for the opportunity. Anytime you get an opportunity, you want to put your best foot forward and go out and represent. They are one of the stingiest defences under coach Washington and coach O, and I’m just happy to be a part of it.”