January 5, 2017

Bighill Heads To New Orleans With Lion-sized memories

BC Lions linebacker Adam Bighill (44) tries to take down Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back Andrew Harris (33) during the first half of CFL action in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday, October 14, 2016. (CFL PHOTO - Jimmy Jeong)

Adam Bighill’s first BC Lions experience was not unlike hundreds of other young hopefuls south of the border. After struggling to find work in the NFL, the product of Central Washington University attended the Lions’ west coast free agent camp in Portland. You’d have to forgive Lions brass for feeling like they were about to strike gold: Travis Lulay was signed after this same camp two years previous and had just unseated Casey Printers as the club’s starting quarterback late in the 2010 season. The stocky linebacker showed up to Lake Oswego High School on a mission and it paid immediate dividends.

“They knew who I was and what I was capable running wise,” Bighill told during a sit down interview last year. “But at the same time I didn’t have the chance to work out for them and do some one-on-one drills. I think it paid off because I intercepted a pass on my first one-on-one and later knocked down another.”

BC Lions linebacker Adam Bighill (44) tries to take down Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back Andrew Harris (33) during the first half of CFL action in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday, October 14, 2016. (CFL PHOTO - Jimmy Jeong)

You know the story by now: Not only was Bighill signed, but he made the most of his first true opportunity to succeed in pro football. Teaming up with Solomon Elimimian, Bighill became part of the most ferocious linebacker duo in recent memory. They made history by becoming the first teammates to record 100-plus defensive tackles in the same CFL season. After proving he is still capable of catching attention south of the border, Bighill exercised a clause in his contract that allowed him to pursue NFL opportunities until January 27th. Just over three weeks ahead of that deadline, number 44 agreed to a three-year contract with the New Orleans Saints.

Along with getting a chance to stick in the Big Easy as a linebacker, Bighill should also be a solid special teams contributor for Sean Payton’s team. At this stage of his career, any NFL situation would be worth taking a flyer on. But the Saints represent a unique situation. Although father time may be starting to catch up to quarterback Drew Brees, he and Payton still make up one of the better head coach/QB tandem’s in all of pro football. New Orleans is also a great environment to play in as the locals worship their beloved Saints. The NFC South was one of the more competitive divisions this season and there is no reason to believe 7-9 Saints shouldn’t be in a position to fight for a playoff spot next season. That of course will all depend on how the rest of their offseason and the draft plays out.

But as for today, we should all reflect on the great impact Bighill left on the Lions organization. Along with establishing himself as one of the best defenders in the league, Bighill was a Grey Cup champion in 2011, a four-time CFL all-star selection and won the CFL Most Outstanding Defensive Player Award in 2015, the same season Elimimian went down with his Achilles injury in August.

Defensive co-ordinator Mark Washington admits he will be tough to replace, but that also comes with the territory when you must overcome obstacles to win in this business.

“I’m very happy for Adam and his family to have the opportunity to go down south and to play with an organization like the Saints. I think he’ll do well for,” Washington said.

“At the same time, we’re going to miss him here. He’s a great person, outstanding player and a leader on our team. But we have to move on. We have to begin to adjust and do the the things that we need to do so that we can continue to put ourselves in a position to win the Grey Cup. We have our work cut out for us because that’s a gigantic void to fill. We do have players on the horizon, guys that we’re looking at. It’s about fitting into the defence that we’ve already structured.”

Bighill in BC- By The Numbers

99– The number of games he suited up for with the club.

576– Total tackles ( 509 defensive and 67 special teams) Bighill recorded in his six CFL seasons. That is good for third all-time in club history behind Dante Marsh and Elimimian.

33– Bighill’s sack total in his Lions career. He reached his career high of nine twice; in 2012 and 2013.

50– The jersey number Bighill wore in his rookie season of 2011. He switched to his familiar 44 one season later.

12– His career high for defensive tackles in a game which he recorded twice: July 24th, 2015 against Toronto and October 22nd, 2016 against Edmonton.

9– The number of games Bighill missed in his six-year tenure. All but three of those came in 2011 before he became a full-time starter.

Bake’s Takes

It gets said quite often, but Bighill is truly a guy who bleeds orange through and through. His presence both on and off the field will be missed greatly. One of the most humble athletes you will ever meet, he never said no to a community experience, a media request or any other related event to help the club. Case in point: in April of 2016 we were shooting teaser videos for the new ADIDAS uniforms and Bighill spent 90 minutes, in full gear, posing for all kinds of angles and takes. He must have been sweating like he would have during game action by the time we finally wrapped up. And here is the best part: to keep himself motivated between shots he did sets of 25 push ups to keep his arms pumped for the cameras. This was dedication to the max.

Bighill will approach this latest adventure the same way he has his entire career: the sky is the limit. You simply can’t count him out when talking about his chances to stick with the Saints’ linebacking corps. What he lacks in size, he makes up for with the amount of heart he demonstrates.Bighill Elimimian flexing Team 100

Water cooler talk is no doubt already filled with the topic of who might replace Bighill at outside linebacker. Bo Lokombo has been groomed for this day since he was drafted in 2013, but you can bet there will be an open competition once 2017 training camp opens in Kamloops. Fellow nationals Adrian Clarke and Nehemie Kankolongo will no doubt be focused on earning an increased role in 2017.  Wally Buono and company will have to decide how to use the ratio in this situation as well. The club still has this year’s version of the United States free agent camps to evaluate talent, just like they were in 2011 when Bighill was first discovered. Syracuse alum Dyshawn Davis showed good flashes in 2016 training camp before spending the season on the practice squad. It should no doubt be one of the more fascinating storylines in camp.

Any Lions fans wanting to catch Bighill in action in 2017? Take note: The Saints are scheduled to make one west coast trip when they visit the Los Angeles Rams. The full NFL schedule is usually released in mid to late April.

Matt Baker: