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Throughout the offseason and first few days of training camp, Wally Buono has repeated his mission statement over and over: If the Lions want to get back to the CFL penthouse in November, they must own the line of scrimmage. Having Jovan Olafioye at left tackle will no doubt play a big part fulfilling said mission. Entering his 7th season in orange, the Detroit native still has the excitement and mentality of someone just breaking into the pros. “It’s always fun to come to camp and see the guys you haven’t seen in awhile,” Olafioye said. “In football or any sport, you become a family.”
On the field, he is in mid-season form. Despite dealing with a minor hip flexor injury in the first week of camp, Olafioye is out there battling and taking first-team reps to ensure the mission will be fulfilled starting on June 25th.
The big left tackle, who famously said he would “run through a wall” for Buono when the head coach announced his return to the sidelines in November, maintains that move is a huge reason camp has gotten off to a stellar start in 2016. “It’s awesome to have Wally back,” Olafioye said. “He’s a guy that’s determined, very professional and demands excellence from his players. You can just feel the atmosphere in this locker room and during meetings. It’s totally different from last year.”
Since migrating north, Olafioye’s resume has become as impressive as any CFL lineman you will find. Five CFL All-Star selections, six more divisional nods and the 2012 league Most Outstanding Lineman Award to go along with his Grey Cup win in 2011. When the NFL didn’t come calling, he admits a career in Canada was not something he yearned for.
“I was big-headed at first,” Olafioye recalled. “I never really thought of it as an option. Eventually my dad and uncles talked to me about the CFL when I didn’t get drafted down South.”
Not too long after, another relative in South Florida phoned to inform him of a BC Lions open tryout in Miami. One phone call about another free agent workout in yet another league from another country and all of a sudden, Olafioye’s path to CFL stardom was under way. “I eventually said “why not?” I am glad I did because once I arrived in Canada I noticed the talent level was very high.”
Buono recalls the commitment and determination Olafioye showed at that free agent camp in Florida. “He was 365 pounds and we told him to get down to 325,” Buono said. “To me that shows how much he cares about not only himself, but the football club and our fans. Jovan has never disappointed us.”
Another duty that comes with Olafioye’s veteran status is the joy of mentoring and coaching up some of the young linemen learning their craft in Kamloops, something passed down by a group of mentors who took Olafioye under his wing when he first arrived in 2010. “I had guys like Angus Reid, Sherko-Haji-Rasouli and Patrick Kabongo, to look up to,” Olafioye said. “I am trying to pass the same thing down to these young guys. They are working hard, asking questions and are just eager to learn.”
New draftees Charles Vaillancourt and Dillon Guy have fit in quite nicely. Don’t think for a second that doesn’t have something to do with having a good group of veterans like Olafioye to lean on. “You can’t ask for more,” Vaillancourt said. “He is so good with his technique and just by observing you pick up so much about how they play. Everything we can pick up from watching and asking questions is great.”
Without a doubt, it is easy for everyone to feel confident this time of year. But thanks to the mixture of veteran presence and new additions such as the draft picks and right tackle Levy Adcock, there is a “Sky is the limit” type of optimism when talking about the offensive line. Adding more intrigue to the unit has been the switch to left guard by Hunter Steward, who suffered a broken foot early last year and never recovered.
“Our biggest setback since I’ve been here has been the injuries.” Olafioye added. “We’d always have a great group in camp, but would lose a bunch of bodies. The idea now is to stay healthy and be the best offensive line in the league.”
Excellent mindset for a guy who didn’t think a career in Canada was an option.
“This is my football home,” Olafioye declared. “I am a BC Lion.”
Matt Baker: email@example.com