As soon as the final gun sounded, Adam Bighill thought about next season.
B.C.’s 34-29 loss to the Calgary Stampeders in the Western Final did not sit well with the Lions’ middle linebacker. Now, as he goes about a rigorous off-season training program, he can look forward to starting 2013 with a new contract.
The CFL all-star signed a new three-year deal, which includes two years plus an option, on Tuesday. The new pact scraps the option year that he would have entered under his old deal.
“It feels good to be wanted,” he said during a media availability at the team’s training facility. “It feels good to be a big part of the program moving forward. I’m excited to be in that position to make the future that much better.”
Bighill came to training camp No. 2 on the depth chart, but beat out James Yurichuk for the starting job. He then continued to excel upon previous starter Solomon Elimimian’s return from the NFL in mid-season.
Bighill led the Lions with 104 tackles, ranking second in the league, and earned the club’s nomination as outstanding defensive player in addition to the CFL all-star nod. He equalled the team record for tackles in a game (13) on Sept. 29 in Saskatchewan, earned defensive player of the week honours on four occasions and was defensive player of the month for October.
The 24-year-old Montesano, Wash., native also notched a team-high seven tackles for a loss, 16 special-teams tackles, nine sacks and four interceptions.
The increased job security contradicts his tenuous status with the Lions upon arrival in 2011. The University of Central Washington alumnus had few professional options when B.C. signed him just before training camp after receiving a recommendation from backup quarterback Mike Reilly, who was a former college teammate.
Coach Mike Benevides has admitted Bighill, an undersized defender listed at five-foot-10 and 230 pounds, was on the bubble in the 2011 pre-season. But he earned a spot with a strong showing in his second exhibition game.
Both Benevides and general manager Wally Buono said Bighill took advantage of the opportunity given to him in 2012 as he shifted from outside linebacker to the middle.
“He’s a pro, he’s passionate about the game, he’s got an outstanding work ethic, he’s tremendously focused, and he’s the kind of guy you really want on your football team,” said Benevides.
“For me, I want to make sure that our team is full of guys like that. When you talk about a defence that was extremely strong, Adam was a centrepiece of that.”
Buono said Bighill was disappointed about being No. 2 on the depth chart at camp, but he refused to sulk about the situation and went out and became No. 1.
“And then when (Elimimian) came back, he could have easily been distracted,” Buono said. “He could have been easily annoyed, but he handled that very well. He didn’t allow that to be a deterrent to him, and he played very well. That shows you a lot of character.”
Meanwhile, veteran centre Angus Reid said he is leaning towards returning for a 13th season. Reid, who is recuperating from surgery on both hands and an elbow, said he has already spoken to Buono and a decision will be finalized in January.
“We want Angus back,” said Buono, adding Reid is expected to resume his starting role.
Buono said Reid, a 36-year-old Richmond, B.C., native who has spent his entire career with his hometown team, means a lot to the Lions’ fan base and “the process of making our offensive line younger.”
The O-line faces a number of changes in the off-season, with Jesse Newman expected to retire at 30 following an injury-riddled career. Dean Valli (knee) and Jon Hameister-Ries (knee, leg, back) are also battling health issues that may deter the club from bringing them back, and all-star tackle Jovan Olafioye is expected to receive some NFL options.
Reid can be an important mentor to Matt Norman, who is entering his second season after limiting his rookie campaign to pursue teaching studies at the University of Western Ontario.
Buono also hopes to sign Kirby Fabien, a 2011 first-round choice who could not agree to contract terms and returned to the University of Calgary. The GM is also thinking of drafting another offensive lineman, and welcomes Reid’s willingness to develop young talent even though all players are naturally protective of their positions.
“When veteran guys put their arm around the young guys, they can pass on way more than the coach can,” said Buono, who guided Calgary and B.C. for 22 seasons before relinquishing his coaching duties in Dec. 2011.
Reid, who had bone chips removed from his elbow and calcium build-up shaved off each hand, said he wants to take the Christmas break to ensure that he is physically and mentally ready for another season.
“I’d really like to play, and they’ve already opened the door for me,” said Reid after completing a workout at the training facility. “We’ll sit down in January and, hopefully, come to a happy conclusion.”
NOTES: Bighill plans to spend most of the off-season in Vancouver and work as a personal trainer for young athletes “to pay some bills” while also participating in the club’s community events. ... Elimimian is expected to pursue another NFL shot after failing to stick with the Minnesota Vikings and Cleveland Browns while injured. He has played out his option with the Lions, and Bighill’s new deal raises questions about whether B.C. will try to re-sign him if he returns to the CFL.