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May 19, 2019

Camp Notebook | A Shot In The Arm

BC Lions Training Camp 2019

Kamloops- Brett Boyko has always lived in the moment. Not surprising when you consider his journey since being drafted by the BC Lions in 2015 has involved stints with three organizations in two different leagues south of the border. As he stepped up to the camera for his first official post-practice interview as a born again Lion, the hulking 6’6 offensive lineman had all of the demeanour of someone who was exactly where he wanted to be.

“I’m beyond excited, honestly,” said the Saskatoon native on day one of training camp.

“It’s a great organization, they’ve got a heck of a QB and surrounding cast, so I’m really excited. The coaching staff is positive and I know it’s only day one but it’s only going to go up from here, so I’m really looking forward to it.”

Not only does Boyko look the part, but his presence also should give the Lions’ offensive line prospects a real shot in the arm and provide a lot more nastiness on the right side, where he is currently slotted in next to fellow new addition Sukh Chung.

Yet, he’d forgive any of the observers if they felt this day would never come. After being selected in round two of that 2015 draft out of UNLV, he would land on the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad that season before spending parts of three years with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers.

After that, it was a forgettable experience with the San Diego Fleet of the now-defunct AAF. Despite only seeing action in one regular season game (with the Chargers in 2017) on this windy road to British Columbia, Boyko insists he wouldn’t trade it for anything.

“Just look at the players I was able to play with: some future Hall of Famers on both sides of the ball on both teams,” he said.

“I learned a ton from a lot of guys. Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, a bunch of guys with two different organizations just teaching me about the game. (Having) a guy like Philip Rivers back there, he’s teaching me the game as well. From an offensive line standpoint, you kind of learn the tricks of the trade from him. I was able to sit back and just enjoy the ride and obviously I feel like it’s made me a better player than I was four or five years ago. I enjoyed every minute.”

And how he has gone from playing with one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks to perhaps the premier signal-caller north of the border in Mike Reilly. It begs the question: how much similarity does he see in the two pivots in terms of the way they conduct themselves?

“First and foremost, they’re unbelievable leaders,” explained Boyko.

“You know it’s funny, I told my brother this like two years ago ‘if I ever go to the CFL, I’d love to block for Mike Reilly. That’s the guy.’ It’s day one so I haven’t been around him a ton, but just meeting him and the kind of guy he is, he’s just an outstanding leader.”

Boyko’s addition does nothing but good things for the squad’s Canadian depth and perhaps the ability to start four nationals on the offensive line. He got most of his work in at right tackle on opening day. The best part? Despite his experiences south of the border, he’s not thinking for one minute that anything will be handed to him here.

“I know I’m not coming here and that they’re just going to put me in,” he said.

“I’ve got to prove that I can play and I’m going to accept that challenge. I want to be the best football player I can be to help the BC Lions any way I can. That’s kind of how I start every camp or every football operation. If I can get better than I was the day before and continue that trend, I’m always happy with that.”

Living in the moment, as always. And right now that involves the organization that was willing to take a bit of a gamble on the NFL hopeful four years ago. Boyko says he never once ruled out this possibility.

“It was always something that I wasn’t afraid to do or anything like that. I think a lot of people got the understanding that I didn’t want to and that was never the case. I was just so close to something else and that’s why I stayed.”

Training Camp Day One: A “Good” Intensity

That was exactly the description of 2018 Grey Cup Most Outstanding Canadian Lemar Durant following morning practice. In a change of routine from previous years, all players ran wind sprints to start things off, never a bad idea to the get the blood flowing and set the tone.

As predicted, Reilly’s presence behind centre made for some fun times watching the offence during team sessions. His first long touchdown bomb of camp went to Shaq Johnson who made a nice move in tight coverage from second-year defensive back Isaiah Guzyluk-Messam. Overall, the sense was “mission accomplished” on day one.

“It was a little bit of a blast from the past and remembering certain memories from as far as nine years ago when I first got up to this place,” Reilly said.

“We say it every year in pro football: ‘it’s a brand new team even if you’re staying on the same team.’ For me, it really is a different team all together but a lot of the players are different that weren’t here a year ago. To come out for the first time and actually put it on the field, that’s exciting. That’s what we like to see. You can talk about it for six months, but now we can finally actually see what kind of team we’re going to be.”

 

Head coach DeVone Claybrooks was anxiously waiting for his first on-field duty since being hired in early December and man, doesn’t that still feel like yesterday? Like his quarterback, Claybrooks has spent the last several months implementing his messages, having his staff perform mock game weeks and doing his part in restoring the winning culture his predecessors in the role had with this franchise.

“You can’t really ride them too hard on day one because we have a game (pre-season in Edmonton) in seven days, but guys came out with good energy, picked up the offence, picked up the defence and we have some pretty good players out here,” said the head coach.

“We just want to get them acclimated to the system we want because the way we do things here is very different than a lot of other teams have done it and kids have seen it. It’s really trying to give them the muscle memory to break the bad habits that they’ve had before. We’re just working on that one snap and one rep at a time to get better.”

Claybrooks had spoken glowingly about his younger players picking up the system quickly during three-day mini-camp. His first glance of how they looked with the veterans was probably what you would expect on day one of the main event.

“Oh yeah, the carryover was good but the intensity and the tempo picked up a little bit so they were almost like a fish out of water,” added Claybrooks.

“Even though they understood the calls, there is still that awe of seeing people that they saw on television just a few weeks ago so it was definitely an adjustment for them and it’s just more of them getting acclimated to the speed of what they’re trying to do and how they’re going to do it.”

Soon, the time for adjusting will be over. With the first pre-season test closing in fast, we are about to find out who has a better chance of sticking around past that first live audition.

Training Camp Schedule

Following the Sunday afternoon session (3:30-5:15) at Hillside Stadium, the Lions will be back for another double day with morning practice set for 8:30-10:25 and another afternoon session at 3:30. All practices are open to the public. You can download the entire training camp schedule as well as roster informationĀ HERE.Ā 

Matt Baker: mbaker@bclions.com