When you think about it, the season Dominique Rhymes had in 2022 was even more remarkable than it seemed at first blush.
The BC Lions’ game-breaking receiver finished second in the CFL in receiving yards, with 1,401 on 85 receptions. He scored 11 touchdowns. He was named a CFL All-Star. He did all that coming into the campaign having had an off-season of relative inactivity. Certainly, he was nowhere near as active as he’d have liked to be, healing and rehabbing a broken foot, suffered during the 2021 season.
“I was just sitting,” the 29-year-old says from Hamilton, where a number of established CFL stars had gotten together to participate in promotional events for the upcoming season. “But this off-season I’ve been fully healthy so I’ve been attacking it super-hard.”
Well, then. If a 1,400 yard season, with a highlight-reel jammed to bursting with spectacular catches can be had with little off-season prep, what might Dominique Rhymes have in store for us in 2023? Especially with a guy who has that much obvious talent and who still carries a motivational chip – mild though it may be – on his shoulder.
“I feel like I always have to prove myself,” says Rhymes, “because I feel like I wanna be in the conversation of ‘oh, yeah, he’s the best, hands down.’ So that’s what I’m trying to prove every year. That I’m the best receiver on the field.”
I get thinking about some of the great receiving seasons in history, and the guys who’ve piled up sixteen, seventeen, eighteen hundred yards. Then I think of the 2,000 yard barrier, something that has only ever been achieved three times in the CFL (Terry Greer, 1983, Allen Pitts, 1994, Derrell Mitchell, 1998). I ask Rhymes: could he be that guy?
“A two thousand yard receiver? That would be amazing,” he answers but then he quickly shifts the focus to the BC receiving corps as a whole, seeing a tantalizing possibility. “But I’d rather you got three guys (each) over 1,300 yards. I think that’s more impressive.”
Last season, Keon Hatcher was second on the Lions with 1,043 receiving yards. Lucky Whitehead stood third, and he too cracked the barrier, finishing with 1,011 yards. The Lions, then, seem poised to have three top guns who could make it to Rhymes’ magic 1,300-yard goal. He believes it is going to happen.
“Lucky’s going to go over his own thousand-yard mark by a lot and Hatch is going to do as well. And you know, we’re going to crush it.”
That’s in part, Rhymes believes, because quarterback Vernon Adams Jr., rather than jumping in mid-season and having to adapt on the fly as he did last year, has now had time to fully digest the Lions’ playbook. And BC coaches have had time to design schemes that will suit the veteran QB.
“Just having VA and him getting the whole off-season to pair with us,” says Rhymes, “he’s gonna have a heck of a season. Like, his best season that you’ve seen. We’re super-excited.”
Rhymes spent this off-season in Ottawa, in the city where he made his CFL debut, playing for three years with the REDBLACKS prior to signing with the Lions after the 2019 season. His fiancee, MacKenzie, is from there, and so Rhymes has now spent two full off-seasons in the capital, rather than heading back to his hometown of Miami, Florida.
If his off-season of last year was quiet one, this one has not been and he has used his locale to his advantage, holding pitch and catch sessions twice a week with REDBLACKS’ quarterbacks Jeremiah Masoli and Nick Arbuckle.
When Rhymes left Ottawa for Vancouver, he carried his motivational motor with him. Not content to know that his arrival as a thousand-yard receiver during the 2019 season had gotten him status as a top-tier free agent, he wanted more. A Covid-cancelled year followed by an injury-shortened 2021 (28 catches for 411 yards in eight games) had him feeling he’d been forgotten a little bit, and that spurred him on, he says, to his sensational 2022.
“I wanted to show people,” Rhymes says quietly, but defiantly. “I’ve had a thousand yards before, in Ottawa, and I wanted to do it for another team. And show people in the CFL that I am a dominant receiver. When you give me enough touches and targets, I’m gonna produce for my team.”
“I feel I’m the best at my position,” he says of what he has to further prove. “When it’s go time and you need that jump ball for a late touchdown, you need big second-down catches, I’m the guy that’s able to make that. And I feel that, come this year, I’m gonna prove it again.”
He could be, he might be, the best receiver in the Canadian Football League. That, though, is mere possibility at the moment. What Dominique Rhymes wants – and what he could be poised to do – is to prove that his name should come up very quickly, indeed, whenever the conversation turns to the topic of who is the most dominant pass-catcher in the CFL.
“A lot of competition as best receiver in the CFL,” he says. “It’s a good competition though. I talk to guys like Reggie Begelton and Kenny Lawler and Geno (Lewis) and I can hear the fiery passion that those guys play with.”
He respects them all and has a message for them. “I’m tryin’ to get like you,” he says.
That quick sentence neatly packages up the motivations that drive Dominique Rhymes and might just help push him to his greatest heights ever, this season.