Jordan Williams-Lambert hopes signing with the Calgary Stampeders gives him the chance to remind anyone who may have forgotten just how good a football player he can be.
“It’s just being able to reintroduce myself in a different situation on a different team,” said the tall receiver with the wide body and sure hands. “Just being able to establish some type of identity here would be great for me and I’m looking to do that this season.
“Hopefully we’ll find ways to make plays (so) that will be possible.”
Williams-Lambert turned plenty of heads in 2018. The 28-year-old from Chicago made 62 catches for 764 yards and four touchdowns with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He was the West Division finalist for the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie and it looked like his star would shine bright in the league.
For various reasons things went dark for Williams-Lambert. Because of an NFL tryout, the CFL shutting down for a year due to COVID-19, and injuries he played just seven games for the Riders over the next two years, making 19 catches for 209 yards.
“It seems like it’s been such a long time since I’ve played but it really hasn’t,” Williams-Lambert said during a break from the Stampeders training camp. “I’ve been playing, I’ve been active, I’ve been contributing.
“I think I’m a great player. I think I possess playmaking ability and I’m looking to prove that this year.”
Ottawa placekicker Lewis Ward was named the league’s top rookie in 2018. Other players breaking into the league that year include Montreal running back William Stanback, receivers R. J. Harris (Ottawa) and Markeith Ambles (then with Calgary, now with Toronto) and Hamilton quarterback Dane Evans.
In Calgary, Williams-Lambert hopes to catch passes thrown by two-time CFL Most Outstanding Player Bo Levi Mitchell and be part of a receiving corps that already features veterans like Kamar Jorden, Reggie Begelton, Richie Sindani and Luther Hakunavanhu.
“I’ve been in the league for a while,” said Williams-Lambert. “There’s been players that have been in the league for a lot longer and have been able to ball out and make plays and become renowned names in the league with this program.
“I’m looking to hopefully learn from them and try and so the same thing.”
Coach Dave Dickenson likes what Williams-Lambert brings to a Stampeder team that finished third in the West last year with an 8-6 record.
“He’s a hard worker, he’s tough,” said Dickenson. “He had a serious wrist injury and he had to go get it fixed if he wanted to play this year.
“He did go to the NFL and when he came back he didn’t have the same success. We’re hoping to kind of rekindle what he had before he went. He’s still in heavy competition, he knows that. Nobody has guaranteed anything but we like him to enhance our receivers.”
It’s early days but Williams-Lambert already feels invigorated by the Stampeder environment. Since 2008 Calgary has played in six Grey Cups, winning three times, the last in 2018.
“You can sense the energy and the excitement for the season,” he said. “This turned out to be a great opportunity to join a great team with a great winning culture.”
For now, Williams-Lambert is adapting to the differences between how the Riders and Stampeders go about their business.
“It’s a lot more detail, the terminology is very different,” he said. “Just understanding their language and understanding my role and what I can do to help make the offence better, understanding the playbook.”
After his 2018 season in Saskatchewan Williams-Lambert signed a contract with the Chicago Bears but was released at the end of training camp in August 2019.
He returned to Saskatchewan but dressed for only three games, making five catches for 57 yards.
“They already had a team chemistry,” said Williams-Lambert. “I was able to come in and help contribute to some wins.
“They had success throughout the year (and) we didn’t want to damage that because the players that were there were making plays.”
Last season Williams-Lambert missed time during training camp with a cut hand. He then suffered a wrist injury that eventually cut his year short.
“I injured my wrist really early in the season and played through some games,” he said. “Those are uncontrollable injuries. I could have waited until the end of the season and got surgery but I wanted to get the surgery out of the way and prepare for this year.
“The fact I’m here, able to compete for another starting job and the opportunity to join a team that is very successful is a blessing for me.”
The first challenge facing Williams-Lambert is earning a spot on the Stampeder roster. His goal after that is managing to play a full season.
“I’m looking to have fun,” he said. “I’m looking to stay healthy, to try and contribute early. I’m looking to make it through the season.
”I think I bring competitiveness, toughness. The ability to make plays and turn small plays into big plays.”
Williams-Lambert says he isn’t bitter over the way things ended in Saskatchewan. He is looking forward to when the Stampeders and Riders face each other in the final two games of the regular season.
“That will be great,” he said. “Those end-of-the-year games are the most important games, setting up the playoffs.”
Playing in those games “would mean I’ve stayed healthy through a season,” he said. “Hopefully I get the opportunity to go against the Saskatchewan Roughriders and show them what they’ve been missing out on, what type of player I could have been, what type of player I am.”