When the CFL season began, Adam Bighill wondered where — let alone how much — he would play.
But it turns out he did not have to worry.
The B.C. middle linebacker was among 10 Lions named as a West Division all-star Thursday. In the East, the Montreal Alouettes also had 10 players chosen as the two division leaders had more all-star picks than any other club.
"It's more than I expected, just because I came into camp wanting to win a starting job," Bighill, a first-time division all-star who was a backup outside linebacker in 2011, said of his season.
He won a battle for the No. 1 middle linebacker position after an opening was created by former all-star and CFL rookie of the year Solomon Elimimian's departure to the NFL. But even when Elimimian returned in mid-season, Bighill, a 24-year-old Montesano, Wash., native who is in his second season with the Lions, kept his job.
Despite his early uncertain status, Bighill, generously listed at five-foot-10, recorded 104 tackles, nine sacks, four interceptions, two forced fumbles and 16 special-teams tackles while helping the Lions finish first with a 13-5 record. Only Edmonton's J.C. Sherritt had more tackles, with a record 130.
"I never had goals per se to lead the team in tackles and do everything that I've done," said Bighill. "I didn't have that mentality. I just wanted to play. So everything that's come to me has just been like extra credit and, basically, what I wanted to accomplish, but I never had goals to do that."
The Central Washington University product came to the Lions after he received a recommendation from backup quarterback Mike Reilly, who went to the same school. Bighill, who was raised by a single father after his mother died when he was 13, had few professional opportunities and was in tough to make the Lions, but he had a strong 2011 pre-season and managed to stick.
"(The all-star nod) helped me re-affirm to myself that I know how to play this game," he said. "I know how to play it at a high level, and my hard work's paying off."
Crediting the teammates around him for his success, he vowed to continue what he has been doing as the Lions prepare to face either the Calgary Stampeders or Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Western Final on Nov. 18.
The division all-stars were selected by CFL fans, head coaches and members of the Football Reporters of Canada.
The Stampeders were next highest in the West with eight selections, followed by Edmonton with six and the Saskatchewan Roughriders with three. In the East, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Winnipeg Blue Bombers had seven selections apiece while the Toronto Argonauts had three.
Lions coach Mike Benevides said Bighill has made the most of the opportunity presented to him in training camp in Kamloops, B.C., this year.
"The biggest facet to being a great player is durability and being able to stay durable and consistent," said Benevides. "And when you look at (Bighill), he played every single snap we needed. He played a ton on special teams. He plays on three special teams (and others at times) as a starting middle linebacker. He's had an outstanding season, and I'm proud of him, because what matters to me: He's passionate about football. He cares. He is just everything you want from a pro."
Bighill earned the all-star selection a day after he lost out to Sherritt, who did not play regularly on special teams, for the West's top defensive player nomination. Ironically, five Edmonton defensive players received all-star honours while the Lions, who had the best defence in the CFL against the run and pass, only had four.
In addition to Bighill, the other B.C. defenders recognized were pass rusher Keron Williams, the league's sack leader, and defensive backs Korey Banks, chosen for the seventh time, and Ryan Phillips, named as one of the best in the West for a third time.
Benevides called defensive back Dante Marsh's exclusion "a travesty" but said not a lot of relevance should be placed on the all-star selections or omissions as the Lions attempt to defend the Grey Cup they won in 2011.
Quarterback Travis Lulay, running back Andrew Harris, with his first career all-star accolade, and linemen Angus Reid, tackle Ben Archibald, and Jovan Olafioye, were the other B.C. offensive players chosen. Kick and punt returner Tim Brown, also a first-time all-star, rounded out the B.C. selections.
Lulay and Harris were honoured a day after they were bypassed for CFL outstanding player and top Canadian nominations, respectively. But Bighill said he and his teammates are "just ignoring everything" because they are more focused on defending their title.
"Individual awards are nice to have, but at the end of the day it's nothing like winning a ring," he said. "So everyone's mind is on winning the Grey Cup."
The CFL all-stars will be announced in early December.
Notes: Lions offensive lineman Dean Valli, bothered by a knee injury all season, took part in practice Thursday and said he expects to play in the Western Final. ... The Lions revised plans to keep practice closed to reporters after the club fined an undisclosed amount by the CFL for violating its media policy last week. Reporters were kept behind a fence in one end of B.C. Place Stadium, but could still see what was happening on the field. ... Benevides plans to watch Sunday's West semi-final with his players rather than scout the game in person. He said coaches can get video and other info they need off the Internet.