Most kids dream about what they want to do when they grow up. BC Lions defensive end Mathieu Betts is one of the fortunate ones to have those dreams come true.
“I grew up watching the CFL, watching the Alouettes,” the Montreal native said after a Lions’ practice this week at their Surrey training facility. “I thought, ‘Damn, they’re pretty big, they’re really super talented.’
“It’s kind of fun looking back at it now, to know I’m part of it right now. It’s something I’m really proud of. I’m happy I’m here and I’m having fun.”
Betts was a punishing force in the Lions decisive 30-6 road win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers last week, sacking quarterback Zach Collaros three times. After three games this season the six-foot-three, 250-pound Laval graduate leads the CFL with five sacks and is part of a defence that has allowed just one touchdown and a league-low 21 points.
» Visit the Game Zone and play Pick ‘Em presented by Old Dutch
» MOP Watch: Landry’s early picks are in
» Prediction Time: CFL.ca writers’ Week 4 picks
» Power Rankings: A new world order
» Landry’s five takeaways from Week 3
» Buy Tickets: See the Argos host the Lions on holiday Monday
“I truly believe you can’t think about those stats too much,” said Betts.
“The sacks are coming right now but it’s early in the season. I know you get slumps too. I won’t get down on myself if they don’t (happen) for a couple of games. The other guys can step up so I’m not too worried about that.”
Most of the talk about the Lions the last two seasons has focused on the offence, but the BC defence has been one of the best in the league. The Lions have forced seven turnovers, collected 11 sacks and held their opponents to a CFL-low 211.7 yards a game.
Besides Betts, the BC defensive front features fellow Quebecers Josh Archibald, a Montreal native who played at McGill and David Menard, who grew up in Chicoutimi, Que., and played at Montreal.
“I do think we are a really good football team,” said Betts. “We were last year. A lot of our players came back this year, all of the same coaching staff. I’m not surprised we’re good.
“We’re living one week at a time, one game at a time. It’s only Week 4. We’re trying not to get too excited. We’re just trying to get better.”
John Bowman, who had a 14-year career with the Alouettes before becoming BC’s defensive line coach last season, said size and speed are part of Betts’ game, but it’s the intangibles that set him apart.
“He knows the game, he’s cerebral,” said Bowman. “He has the best get-off in the CFL. He plays with good instincts. He doesn’t just do stuff to do it. He sees formations. He sees a backfield or sees a key from an offensive lineman and he just reacts to that. He’s a very smart player.”
Fresh off their big win over the Bombers, the Lions (3-0) face another challenge when they play the defending Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts (2-0) Monday at BMO Field.
Betts said a key will be stopping running back A. J. Ouellette who has rushed for 144 yards and three touchdowns.
“It’s going to start with the defensive line trying to minimize the damage,” he said. “Don’t overthink it. Just play hard, play true to your technique and hopefully good things will happen.”
Fans watching last week’s game on TSN might have been surprised by Betts’ reaction to a camera close-up shot after one of his sacks. Most players wave or send a greeting to family or friends.
Betts gave a cold stare but swears he wasn’t trying to be intimidating.
“We had some of the guys at the bench where we talk about schemes,” he explained. “I just didn’t want to give anything away. I tried to act normal. It was a little uncomfortable to get the camera in your face.”
Betts is one of the many CFL players who grew up playing football in Quebec. While with the Laval Rouge et Or he was an All-Canadian four times and is the only player in U SPORTS football history to win four major individual awards.
He won the Peter Gorman Trophy as the most outstanding rookie in 2015 plus won the J. P. Metra Trophy as most outstanding down lineman three times. He also played on Vanier Cup-winning teams in 2016 and 2018.
“I know the football community is really strong,” Betts said. “We’ve got talented players in Quebec City, Montreal, everywhere in the province. The high school teams hire full-time, really qualified coaches which helps the development.
“I like where it’s going right now.”
Bowman saw the growth of football in the province during his time with the Als.
“They take their grassroots football seriously,” he said. “That’s where it starts. You develop a love for the game and you get good coaching. You get a taste for success and you start chasing it.
“I played with Canadian d-lineman and I played with American d-lineman. If you’re good, you’re good.”
The Edmonton Elks selected Betts third overall in the 2019 CFL Draft. He attended the Chicago Bears’ training camp before joining the Elks in September.
Betts joined the Lions as a free agent last year. In 18 games he had 26 tackles and seven sacks.
He credits the CFL for not only giving him a job but allowing him to experience the country.
“I live in beautiful Vancouver so it’s really hard to beat,” he said. “I grew up in Montreal, played in Quebec City, stayed in Edmonton. We’re travelling around the biggest cities in the CFL during the season.
“It’s a thrill. It’s really fun. It’s probably not something I would have done if it wasn’t for the CFL. I’m very fortunate.”
It took more than talent and desire for Betts to make his dream a reality.
“It’s the hard work of a lot of people who believed in me and put time in me,” he said. “My parents, my friends, my girlfriend. I’m really fortunate to be where I am.
“They say it takes a village and I truly believe that it’s a pretty big village. I’ve been fortunate that ever since I started playing football I’ve been around great people, great coaches, great teammates. That’s what has brought me here and it’s pretty cool honestly.”
During the off-season Betts returns to Montreal where he is a physical education teacher. Some of his students know he also plays football.
“I don’t advertise it,” Betts said. “I’m just Mr. Betts when I’m in school. I’m not No. 90 for the BC Lions.”