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Football training camps often are filled with feel-good stories instead of just the usual aches and pains of the preseason, even for the defending Grey Cup champions.

The stories include an investment banker -- offensive lineman Brian Conlan -- returning to the game six years after he was released, hoping for one last hurrah with the B.C. Lions.

There's kicker Matt Kellett, who finally gets a legitimate opportunity to replace Lui Passaglia, the retired Canadian Football League legend.

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Then there's Ryan Thelwell, a slick receiver who returned to Canada after six years in the United States, the past three as a vagabond reserve in the National Football League.

"He got tired of being a gypsy, a forgotten man," Lions general manager Adam Rita said. "We made him feel that he was welcome here and this should be his home."

Thelwell has run pass patterns on the wider and longer CFL field for the first time this week and must make many adjustments to his game before the Lions consider moving him into the starting lineup.

The Jamaica-born Thelwell was raised in London, Ont., before attending the University of Minnesota. He had cups of coffee with the San Francisco 49ers, the San Diego Chargers, the New Orleans Saints, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Denver Broncos. He learned from receiving great Jerry Rice of the 49ers and Jake Reed with the Saints.

"I can't be disappointed because I've had a great run and enjoyed playing football in the States," Thelwell said yesterday. "I can always tell my grandkids I played in the NFL, but right now I'm just happy to be playing again."

Thelwell started three games with the Chargers one year and could tell stories about beleaguered quarterback Ryan Leaf, but chose not to. Right now he's more concerned about learning the CFL game and earning the right to start for the team that took him in the second round of the 1998 draft.

"Since I've been here, I've kind of felt something that I haven't felt in a while," Thelwell said about his acceptance by teammates and the coaching staff. "It rained the past few days, but I could stay out here and play all day because I'm having fun.

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"I'm glad to be here. I gave up on the NFL because I didn't consider myself playing the last few years. You're almost like a practice dummy, running scout-teams stuff every week, and to me that's not playing football. I'll take this any day."

The Lions brought in former CFL receiving great Jim Sandusky as a guest coach to tutor receivers on the finer points of the Canadian game. Thelwell must learn the nuances of defensive secondaries and when to make his breaks when running patterns on the bigger field.

In practice yesterday, he used a swim move -- his right arm pushing down on the right shoulder of the defender -- to bull his way past Lee Vaughn before making a catch. Then his deceptive speed got him past Curtis Anderson on a fly pattern.

On the next series, Thelwell slyly worked past defender Roosevelt Blackmon and into the clear, only to drop the pass thrown by rookie quarterback Drew Miller.

"He's a legitimate professional receiver who has the skills to be a very good one," said head coach Steve Buratto, who put holdover Denis Montana ahead of Thelwell on the depth chart so that Thelwell must earn his position before being considered for starting.

"He must learn the offence and catch the ball when he gets open," Buratto said of Thelwell. "He's good enough to be a starter. I see him as part of the mix. He's just hesitant right now."

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The Lions are without two import receivers from their championship team, deciding not to invite Jimmy Cunningham and Jimmy Oliver back this season. Thelwell, because he attended high school in London, is classified as a non-import.

B.C. lost starting slotback Sean Graham yesterday with a knee injury, which opens up another position. Alfred Jackson and Don Blair are certain starters.

Thelwell, 28, was born in Montego Bay and moved to London at age four. He lives in Minneapolis in the off-season and hopes to make B.C. his football home. He was introduced to pro football with a 49ers team that included Rice and quarterback Steve Young.

"I had the opportunity to be in the NFL and I bounced around for a few years and wasn't successful," the 6-foot-2 Thelwell said as he reflected on his short career. "Now it's time to try something else and have fun again. The last couple years, I didn't want to play any more at times.

"I'm not the fastest, not the biggest. I work hard, have decent hands and run good routes. I want to be a starter."

He also wants to complete his schooling at a Canadian university as he's a few courses short of graduating with a degree in education.

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