The BC Lions prepared for their 59th season of CFL action in the best possible frame of mind in 2012. Coming off a historic Grey Cup championship six months earlier, the Lions set out to defend their title and accomplish what no other previous Lions team had done previously: repeat as league champs.
As the Grey Cup toured across British Columbia, GM and vice president of football operations Wally Buono along with newly named head coach Mike Benevides began to piece together the 2012 edition of the BC Lions.
Benevides’ first decision was to retain Jacques Chapdelaine as offensive coordinator and hire Rich Stubler as defensive coordinator. Stubler had been with the Lions in 2010 before departing for the DC position in Edmonton for the 2011 campaign. Chapdelaine entered his ninth season with the Lions and fourth as OC.
While the coaching staff began to sort itself out, Buono received a late Christmas gift when defensive tackle Khalif Mitchell decided to forego some lucrative NFL offers and return to the Lions and centre Angus Reid elected to put off retirement at least for one more season. Buono also re-signed receiver Arland Bruce who added an offensive spark to the Lions’ 2011 season as well as veteran linebacker Anton McKenzie, but temporarily lost linebacker Solomon Elimimian and right tackle Jovan Olafioye to NFL clubs.
In February, the club secured its coaching staff for the 2012 campaign, naming Dan Dorazio (offensive line), Travis Moore (receivers), Kelly Bates (running backs), Mark Washington (secondary), Randy Melvin (defensive line) and Chuck McMann (special teams) to their respective posts.
Benevides would face his first disappointing news of his young career when just days after naming his staff, defensive line coach Randy Melvin received an offer from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Also departing the Lions in early February was backup quarterback Jarious Jackson following seven seasons in orange.
Buono’s work of re-signing vets continued as well with Korey Banks inking an extension on February 8th. Just days later, Buono put the final touches on a record-setting coaching career with his fourth CFL Coach of the Year honour announced in Toronto.
Upon returning to Vancouver, Buono was greeted by the news that his all star right tackle Jovan Olafioye would be returning to the club. Olafioye had been signed by the St. Louis Rams but then released following due to medical concerns. After a battery of tests, the club deemed Olafioye fit for action and breathed a sigh of relief that their offensive line would be intact heading into camp.
As free agency approached, there appeared to be few holes in the reigning champs but the Lions added some defensive depth by signing Byron Parker and Lin-J Shell, both of whom had been released by the Toronto Argonauts. Knowing that Andrew Harris was going to be the starting running back in 2012 and accepting the retirement papers of Jamall Lee, the club signed free agent running back Stu Foord away from his hometown Saskatchewan Roughriders.
While new faces were being inked to contracts, Buono also retained the services of would-be free agents with Ryan Phillips and Dante Marsh to finish off an active February.
In March, Lions free agent camps were underway in the U.S. while the club continued to sew-up other contract extensions. Geroy Simon, Paris Jackson and Anthony Reddick each signed off on deals and Mike Benevides signed long-serving NFL player and coach Carl Hairston to tutor his defensive line. The Lions also hosted their ninth annual Orange Helmet Awards with Hershel Walker as the keynote speaker. Proceeds from the event pushed the club’s overall support of grassroots football in British Columbia to more than $575,000.
While hoping to secure quarterback Travis Lulay to a longer term deal, Buono had to settle for a smaller extension with the league’s reigning Most Outstanding Player. There were free agent signings as well, with future practice roster players Gerard Lawson and Ben Ossai coming to the Leos from U.S. camps.
May started off with a bang as the annual CFL Draft took centre stage. The Lions made a deal just prior to the opening round and moved up to second overall, enabling them to land much-heralded defensive tackle Jabar Westerman. The club also picked up two offensive linemen in Kirby Fabien (Calgary) and Matt Norman (Western Ontario) as well as Jordan Verdone (Calgary). After the club was ultimately unable to agree to terms with Fabien, the talented offensive guard returned to school for another year.
With camp just a couple weeks away, defensive back Davis Sanchez called it a career after 11 seasons and multiple Grey Cup wins. The Lions nailed down both Akeem Foster and Dean Valli with contract extensions and signed a fourth quarterback in Thomas DeMarco out of Old Dominion University.
Away from the field, the Lions launched a slightly revamped jersey for 2012 remaining true to their orange roots. The club also announced that former defensive greats Nick Hebeler and Rick Klassen would be added to its prestigious Wall of Honour in July.
Next up: Looking back at the 2012 season: part 2