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Ian Williams figures he can progress to the top of the class with the B.C. Lions by using his head, as well as brawn, just two years after brain surgery.

The 24-year-old linebacker made his preseason debut last night against the Calgary Stampeders and his presence already is hailed as a huge success by those who know him in his hometown of Brampton, Ont.

The fact he's playing football at all is miraculous because two years ago Williams missed the entire season after undergoing surgery on a benign tumour. He returned to the gridiron last season and played briefly on defence, although not the entire season. He attended the Canadian Football League evaluation camp this spring and the 6-foot-4, 233-pounder was so impressive that he was drafted second overall by the Lions.

He has no trepidation about the sometimes brutal physicality of pro football, even when it comes to lowering his head in the offensive line to peer between his legs as the long snapper in punting situations.

Williams was thoroughly tested by the B.C. medical staff when he arrived at training camp earlier in the month; he even had a brain scan to confirm he was sufficiently recovered and not a medical risk.

"I've just got to play and show them I'm all right and that I don't have any problems," Williams said Monday after practice at B.C. Place Stadium.

Williams remains on medication, taking eight pills a day, a combination of the drugs Topomax and Dilantin. The medication helps control possible seizures.

He still needs time to get adjusted to new surroundings and sometimes that means adjusting his dosages. Sleep is important and during training camp he had to transfer rooms because of the snoring of teammate Tom Tovo.

"I'm not worried about things at all," Williams said. "I phoned home and talked to my dad, told him I'm playing."

He figures to draw special-teams duty with the Lions, especially on kick coverages, because of his size and speed. He's listed fourth in the depth chart at middle linebacker after a late start at training camp due to the scan, but could move up quickly.

"He's promising, he's smart and mostly in the right place all the time," said Gary Etcheverry, B.C.'s new defensive co-ordinator, who figures Williams will need extra time to learn about the CFL after missing a college season. "There's an added bonus in his special teams. He might be a star some day.

"But I'd rather play a guy a year late than a day early. I subscribe to that."

Head coach Steve Buratto is teaching Williams the nuances of being a long snapper for punts, citing his own experience as a young player.

"When I was a kid, I wanted to be a quarterback, but I couldn't run," Buratto said. "The coach asked me if I could throw the ball between my legs as well as I could [overhand] Fortunately I could, so from then on I was a centre.

"I asked Ian the same thing. He had never tried, but he can and he's pretty darn good at it. He did better the first two times than most of the guys do in a month when they struggle [to learn]"