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Beefy, big-butted Aaron Hunt was one of the most dominant defensive players in recent CFL history — and one of the most unlikely.
Undressed and wearing skivvies in the BC Lions’ locker room, he looked like a baby hippo. Yet on the football field, with his motor wound, Hunt could boast of an array of skills and come at you like gangbusters.
“Even though Aaron had that big stomach, and would do that doughnut dance after a sack, he had the skill set of a linebacker, if not a defensive back,” said veteran CFL defensive lineman Keron Williams. “He could be quick on the ball, run well and he knew how to break down an offence. That’s what Jabar is doing.”
Jabar is sophomore defensive tackle Jabar Westerman, the player Lions veterans refer to as “Baby Hunt.” But it’s no longer because of an anatomical similarity with the original. Westerman has an appetite for breaking up plays, just like his ample predecessor. Hunt was a two-time CFL all-star after becoming the league’s rookie of the year in 2006. But the large derriere, the thunder thighs and the jolly belly which suited the mirthful Hunt are missing from his junior version.
“He’s like a safety right now, with all that good eatin’,” defensive end Khreem Smith said of Westerman. “That’s what I call him now: ‘Safety.’ But I’m just messin’ with him.”
It’s meant in jest, but ‘safety’ doesn’t miss the mark by much. Westerman is a trimmer, tighter 2.0 variant of the 23-year-old, 285-pounder who broke into the CFL last year and became the West Division’s rookie of the year.
“I toned up my body fat,” Westerman explained. “I changed up my diet and worked on my cardio in my offseason training. Last year I was pointed more toward combine testing. This year, I concentrated more on movement and positioning. I took out a lot of the fats I was eating, cut back on the fast food meals and started eating more leafy greens and meat protein, like chicken. In college (Eastern Michigan), you had to get your meals quick between classes. So you grabbed whatever you could because it was convenient. I consciously made an effort to eat better. And I feel the difference, most definitely.”
Hunt, despite his excess poundage, was blessed with sweet feet, athleticism and great anticipation. He was a dancing bear who stuck up his big, thick paw just at the point the quarterback released the football. Knockdowns were his speciality. In 2007, he led all CFL defensive linemen with 10.
That same Hunt-like agility was in evidence last Saturday in the first quarter against the Edmonton Eskimos when Westerman swatted away a Mike Reilly passed intended for Marcus Henry which forced the Esks into a punting situation. He also had two tackles in the Lions’ 31-21 victory, plus his first interception in the pros. It came in the fourth quarter when Reilly, under pressure from Smith and Williams, tried a desperation pass, only to have it picked off by Westerman, who looked like a safety dropping back in coverage. It was his first CFL interception and allowed the Lions to scrimmage at Edmonton’s 14-yard line. Five plays later, Andrew Harris was in the end zone for his third touchdown of the game.
“He took some weight off, got serious about what he was doing and it’s definitely paying off,” Williams said of Westerman. “His athleticism surpasses his outward physical appearance, and that’s how Hunt was. He’s a modern-day Hunt. And Aaron wrote his own history here. He’s one of the all-time greats as a BC Lion and a CFL player, as far as I’m concerned. This kid, he’s young and he’s talented. He’s got a big future ahead of him.”
Perhaps, like Hunt, as a member of the CFL’s all-time swat team.