Paris Jackson has no difficulty remembering the last time he started a CFL game.
It was in 2009.
Barring any unforeseen changes, he will finally start at slotback again Saturday as his B.C. Lions visit the Edmonton Eskimos.
“Man, I’ve been waiting for that for three years,” said Jackson, an 11-year veteran who has spent his entire career with the Lions, after a practice this week.
“I’ll be very emotional.”
Jackson is slated to replace Shawn Gore, who suffered a head injury in a win over Toronto last week. Gore is going through the league’s concussion protocol.
In the past four seasons, Jackson, 32, has battled negative perceptions about his age and speed. The Vancouver native’s career was first derailed by a wonky knee, and then Lions general manager Wally Buono launched a youth movement in the receiving corps.
In 2011, a day after the Lions won the Grey Cup, Jackson stood before reporters talking — and feeling — like he had played his last game as a Lion.
“I didn’t think I was going to be with the team,” he said. “I knew I was still going to play, because I still had that passion in my heart, that drive.”
But Buono, the club’s former coach, and current head coach Mike Benevides appreciated the way Jackson persevered through his minimal playing time without complaint in the championship season. So they gave him another chance.
The B.C. bosses also considered that he had undergone arthroscopic knee surgery in each of the previous two off-seasons.
Playing largely on special teams, he recorded just seven receptions for 117 yards in 2011, and caught just 10 passes for 127 in 2012 as the Lions reached the Western Final.
“It’s been hard,” he said about his limited playing opportunities. “But these young guys, I see the talent in them, and I totally understand, because I was in the same situation eight, nine years ago trying to take someone’s spot.”
Now, he has outlasted Geroy Simon, a future hall of famer who was traded to Saskatchewan in the off-season.
And Jackson is showing that he has potential for more, depending on how long Gore is out.
Jackson filled in for him admirably against the Argos, posting four receptions. During one stretch, he caught a pair of back-to-back passes — something else he had not done for a while.
“Oh, man, it felt great,” he said. “It’s been three years. I sat down on the sideline after that. I didn’t really realize it’s been three years since I got back-to-back catches.”
Jackson dismisses a suggestion that he is like a cat with nine lives. He attributes his career revival to hard work, dedication and his willingness to be a leader for young receivers like Gore, Courtney Taylor and Nick Moore.
“You really can see that I’m back to how I used to be,” said Jackson, who has shed down to 210 pounds from 225 or 235 in order to reduce pressure on his knee.
“I’m confident, I’m healthy and, at the end of the day, I don’t believe in nine lives. I’ve been in this league for 11 years. I’ve been a starter for a lot of those years, and they wanted to go young. Now, Geroy’s not here and we’ve got Shawn Gore hurt and a couple other guys could be banged up a little bit.
“So it’s time for a veteran guy like me to step up.”
Gore’s injury is one of a number that the Lions are facing as they try to improve on their 1-1 record in the young season. Linebacker Adam Bighill (ankle) is also out after getting hurt against Toronto, and centre Angus Reid (back) and kicker Paul McCallum (groin) have yet to play this season.
But Benevides has no qualms about inserting Jackson, who was Buono’s first draft pick (sixth overall) when the GM moved to B.C. from Calgary.
“Paris is a pro,” said Benevides, a former Stampeders assistant. “He’s been here as long as any of us have, since 2003. a Paris Jackson is a tremendous player, and he’s going to be great for us.”
Accordingly, quarterback Travis Lulay is not worried about any disruptions to the offence.
“Paris is a luxury to have, having a veteran guy coming off the bench,” said Lulay. “If your depth isn’t good and you have a starter get hurt, sometimes you wonder about that. As a quarterback, you can second-guess if the guy knows what he’s doing, if he’s going to be in the right spot. But with Paris, that’s just not the case.”
Jackson took a pay cut after the 2011 season and has been gradually increasing his salary while playing on yearly contracts.
“If my role can increase and money can increase, then I’ll be here,” he said. “If it decreases, then there’s no need for me to be here.”
At the moment, there is a need, and he is determined to fill it.
“Now, I’ve just got make sure I get as many reps as I can to catch back up to a few years that I’ve lost,” he said.