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Sounds like an issue the Mars Rover has to deal with in the depths of outer space. For the Lions however, geographic pull is a naturally occurring phenomenon that occasionally takes place when a draft pick decides he’d like to play closer to home. It typically takes place when it comes time for a player to negotiate their second contract and for Wally Buono and Mike Benevides it’s a factor worth weighing on draft day.
“I’d say it’s well documented,” admits Benevides who was the coordinator of the club’s draft back in 2006 when the Lions snagged arguably one of the best classes in recent history including offensive lineman Dean Valli, former Outstanding Canadian Ricky Foley and linebacker Jason Pottinger.
“Jason and Ricky are both great football players and when they played out that first contract they were valuable assets who had a desire to play in front of family and friends. In the end it was significant factor in our inability to keep them here.”
The Lions benefitted in the short term as each played a role in a great 2006 regular season and eventual Grey Cup championship, but the trend of potentially losing an eastern-born player is a risk that the Lions do factor in as they close in on another CFL Draft this Tuesday.
“I would say it’s a thought more than a significant issue, but that’s what the interview process at the CFL Combine hopes to uncover as well,” says Buono. “Some guys are a little more mature, they’re old enough to understand the opportunity to carve out their own future and establish roots in a new city. Other guys play out that first contract and start thinking about going back because perhaps they didn’t take the time to do the same thing.”
There are exceptions along the way as well, such as veteran linebacker Jason Arakgi who very quickly adopted British Columbia as his home.
“I can’t imagine moving away,” says the seventh-year Leo. “I have a family here now, I’ve continued my education and I’m involved in a lot of community initiatives. For me I think it was getting out and experiencing everything the city had to offer that got me hooked.”
Rolly Lumbala and Marco Iannuzzi are other examples of draft picks who made the fulltime move to the coast shortly after joining the Lions. While they didn’t move far (both being from Calgary), the commitment was significant and it’s no surprise that both are also heavily involved in the club’s community relations programs.
This past spring the Lions also inked offensive lineman Matt Norman to an extension as the Quebec native begins his second full season as the club’s starting centre.
“Matt is a key piece to the offense just as Kirby Fabien and Hunter Steward are guys we’ll want to keep on our roster for years to come,” says Buono. “Anytime you can secure your young talented Canadian players you set your team up for success.”
Trying to sign free agent safety Craig Butler this past offseason however, the Leos ended up losing out to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats despite offering more money to the Ontario native.
“It was a hard decision for him, the economics probably made more sense here, but he’s from that area and so is his girlfriend who was finishing up school here in BC. In the end, that decision was about his overall future, not just football.”
So is geographic pull a concern heading into Tuesday’s draft?
“I think kids are going to tell you what they think you want to hear when it comes to being part of your team whether they’re playing at Laval or Alberta,” admits Benevides. “Their role on the team, their contract terms, their experiences in a new city; all of those things play a role in their decision to remain with you after the first contract, so I’m not too concerned about it today.”
The Lions enter Tuesday’s CFL Draft with eight selections including three of the first 14 overall picks.