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With some new members of the coaching staff already knee deep in preparation and a flurry of free agency activity by GM Ed Hervey last month, the 2018 BC Lions season will definitely feel like a whole new chapter in franchise history. One of those new faces on the sidelines will be Markus Howell. Hired as the club’s receivers coach and passing game coordinator in January, the 42-year old brings not only a new and fresh mind to the offence but some recent success in Saskatchewan to build on.
As you may recall, last year’s Roughriders presented an example of what the 2016 Lions were able to do: get back to the playoffs thanks to some impressive offensive statistics.
“So we’re excited about what we can do here with this group.”
Count Jarious Jackson as one of Howell’s bigger influences in his coaching career. While on the Blue Bombers’ staff, Howell watched Jackson turn an underachieving Eskimos squad into Grey Cup Champions in 2015. When Jackson and a few other Edmonton coaches made the jump to Saskatchewan after that victory, Howell joined him for that rebuilding project.
“We struggled in 2016, but in 2017 we kind of turned a corner. When he got the job here he expressed that he wanted me to join him. It is an opportunity I can’t turn down,” explained Howell.
On paper, it would suggest both the passing game and receiving corps need a boost this season. That being said, a few of the pieces in place should still pose problems for the opposing defence on any given week. Emmanuel Arceneaux and Bryan Burnham both eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in 2017, while Shaq Johnson came into his own and established himself as one of the top nationals at his position in the CFL.
“There is a core nucleus of guys in the receiving corps that is fantastic,” said the 2008 Grey Cup Champion with Calgary.
“When you put them in with the quarterbacks and running backs we’ve got, and the O-line is revamped, it could be an explosive offence and that’s what we’re looking for.”
And like we learned last year, simply having potential difference makers doesn’t guarantee any type of success. That is where the long days of preparation before mini-camp and training camp itself come in.
“Our job is to give them a system they can rely on. They are super explosive and dynamic athletes,” added Howell of his new squad.
“(There are) guys like Rainey who can stick his foot in the ground and flip the field in a heartbeat. Our job is to give them a system they can buy into and love and just let athletes be athletes.”
The son of Jamaican born parents, Howell’s childhood sports talents were not limited to the football field. Name the season and he was devoted.
“I grew up in Winnipeg my whole life so I know it can get cold and mosquitos are like pets,” chuckled Howell.
“I had a great upbringing and was a four-season sports kid growing up. I played a little hockey, track and basketball. At the end of high school, I had the chance to work out for some universities and ended up with a scholarship at Texas Southern as a dual athlete in football and track. At the end of my time there my hometown team, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, drafted me.”
Howell spent five seasons with the Bombers before moving on to the Ottawa Renegades for 2005. It was in the nation’s capital where he hauled in 25 passes for 417 and three majors. After the franchise folded, he was picked up by Calgary in the dispersal draft where he spent four years won his only Grey Cup ring. After one final playing season with the Bombers in 2010, he retired as a player and immediately joined their coaching staff before joining Jackson in Saskatchewan. Now he looks forward to donning the orange and help the Lions’ playmakers re-discover that potential.
“It’s a great opportunity. Not a lot of coaches get to say they had the chance to work with Wally Buono or a great GM like Ed. To have some solid, solid coordinators like Jarious and Mark Washington to learn from, the opportunity was perfect.”
The new chapter will certainly be an intriguing read.