November 3, 2023

Costabile: Adams Jr.’s winding road leads him to WSF

Dave Chidley/

Playing in the CFL hasn’t been a simple point A to point B journey for Vernon Adams Jr. There’s been many stops added on along the way.

He’s suffered injuries, been relegated to backup roles, sent packing to new teams through trades and has been released. You name it, and Adams Jr. has likely been through it in his career north of the border.

No, it hasn’t been a straight path to get to this year’s Western Semi-Final, but instead of fighting the turmoil, the Lions quarterback has learned to embrace the unconventional.

“You can’t just love the highs and then hate (the lows),” Adams Jr. said following his team’s final full practice on Thursday ahead of the big game against Calgary.

“You have to enjoy the ups and downs. Even when you lose, at the moment, it sucks. But life is so much more and (I’m thankful to) have the opportunity to come out here and play in front of fans and play in Canada.”

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One of those unconventional moments was back in 2018, when Adams Jr. was willing to do just about anything to continue to play football.

During that off-season, the Riders traded Adams Jr. to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in exchange for defensive lineman Charleston Hughes and when Adams arrived, he looked around at the talent in the quarterback room and wasn’t exactly sure how he would fit in.

The likes of Jeremiah Masoli, Johnny Manziel, Bryant Moniz, and his current teammate Dane Evans were all part of that that quarterback room. So what did that mean for Adams Jr.?

He decided to take things into his own hands, asking then head coach June Jones to make a position switch to receiver.

“I really liked the locker room there,” smiled Adams Jr. “I liked the facilities there. The fans were so welcoming. I told (head coach) June Jones, I said, ‘Hey, I’ll play receiver. Let me go to receiver, let me do something else. I just want to get on the field.'”

Evans, who now backs up Adams in BC, remembers the time the two shared in Hamilton together well. He says Adams Jr.’s willingness to do whatever it took to play football showed just how much this game means to him.

“What I really learned from him was he just loves the game,” said Evans. “He wants to be quarterback and he is a great quarterback, obviously, but he would do anything to just be on the field with the guys. That’s what I took away from it.”

“I remember we had a joke between me, him and Jeremiah,” continued Evans, smiling. “It was like, if (Vernon’s) out there, we have to throw it to him type of thing, because I always throw it to another quarterback. And it was fun to do because he was actually a good receiver, too. It wasn’t like just trying to throw it to your buddy.”

So the question had to be asked: Will we see any Dane Evans to Vernon Adams Jr. passes in this weekend’s playoff game?

‘We’ve been joking with (offensive coordinator) Jordan (Maksymic) about that all season,” laughed Evans, since the CFL allows two quarterbacks to be on the field at the same time. “In Hamilton last year, me and Matt (Shiltz) did it probably six games in a row. We had like a package where we would do it.”

‘Big Play VA’ enjoyed his time playing receiver, a position he had some experience in (he played both quarterback and pass-catcher in his early high school days) even if it was only for a brief period. Despite trying to find a way to stay in Hamilton, things didn’t work out for him with the Tiger-Cats; he stayed through the first week of the season before he was released.

His journey would then take him to the Montreal Alouettes, signing with the team just a few days following his release from Hamilton in June 2018. He would eventually make his first playoff start with the Als, suiting up in the Eastern Semi-Final in 2019.

“I didn’t win that one,” Adams Jr. said of the Eastern Semi bout against Edmonton. “My goal is to get better. My goal this year was to get better than my best stats and wins from previous years and so far I’ve accomplished that. Now we’re here at this second part of the goals and now it’s to win a playoff game. And after that is next week and one at a time, just to the ultimate goal (the Grey Cup), which everyone has.”

He was with the Als until a trade sent him from Montreal to BC in 2022 after Trevor Harris took over the starter role early in the season. Upon arriving in BC, Adams Jr. assumed the backup role behind Nathan Rourke. He eventually filled in for Rourke while the Canadian sensation dealt with a foot injury and then stepped aside when Rourke returned for the team’s post-season run.

This time around while his Lions are getting ready for the playoffs, they’re looking to a new leader; Vernon Adams Jr. himself.

“I prepared last year as I was a starter, but now this year, it’s like, this is my team,” he said, as he eyes his first playoff victory on Saturday. “Everyone’s going as far as I’m going. So, the last home game here, we played against Calgary and didn’t play the way I wanted to play. And I just know I’ve got my family coming up, it’s going be a packed house in here, so it’s going be a great environment and I just got to enjoy it. I’m preparing hard.”


Adams Jr., who hit career-highs in passing yards (4,769) and touchdowns (31) this season, and his Lions welcome the Stamps back to BC Lions, as the pair of teams met just two weeks ago. Adams didn’t finish that one, stepping aside for Evans in the second half, connecting on nine of 13 passes for 116 yards and an interception in his team’s loss. The other two meetings between these two clubs were wins for the Leos.

Despite their difference in records, the Lions at 12-6 and Calgary at 6-12, the pivot knows the winner-take-all matchup will still be a challenge, one that he welcomes, just like he has his entire career.

“They’ve settled in on what they want to do this last month,” said Adams Jr. “Jake (Maier)’s playing great. But that defence, Brent Monson, the defensive coordinator, him and I, him and (offensive coordinator) Jordan Maksymic, they’re playing chess. It’s just fun to go against those guys. They’re flying around. They talk smack. It’s a rivalry game.”

Mental health matters for Lions quarterbacks

The BC Lions have an excellent quarterback room, says Dane Evans. One full of men who have been through similar journey’s in the CFL, giving them all something to find common ground on.

“I think it’s really cool that me, (Vernon) and even Dom (Dominique Davis) have all kind of been through some either same situations or very, very similar,” said Evans. “Just being older guys, now we all can relate to one another. What Dom went through an Ottawa, VA went through in Montreal and I went through in Hamilton, we all went through the same thing.”

That’s why it’s important for Evans and the rest of the Lions QB room to make sure they’re all okay, not just with the playbook but with their mental health as well.

“We’ll always check in with each other, (and say) ‘hey, how are you feeling?'” said Evans, who has been open with his experiences last season with his mental health. “And everyone always thinks that you’re asking like, how’s your arm feel? How’s does your back feel? Sometimes we’ll talk about that, but I’m like, ‘no, no, between the ears, how are you feeling? Let’s check in with each other.’ That’s just things we do once a week, once every couple of weeks just to check in.”

“I think that has helped our relationship,” continued Evans. “All three of us grow as co-workers and co-quarterbacks together. I think it’s just a really special thing we have here. The fact that we’re able to talk about like our mentals as a group is pretty big considering in football most people don’t talk about that.”

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