July 16, 2019

Another Opportunity Knocks For Lankford

Ryan Lankford has rarely, if ever, met an opportunity he didn’t want to face head-on. We begin with a quick flashback to his freshman season at Illinois on one of college football’s biggest stages.

“We were playing Michigan at the Big House,” recalled Lankford after his first practice with new Lions teammates.

“We ended up losing the game 67-65 in triple overtime, but I scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion. It all occurred after A.J. Jenkins, a guy who ended up being a first-round draft pick in the NFL (by San Francisco in 2013) came to me and said ‘You’re in. I’ve got a concussion.’ At first, I was like, ‘what? No, you’re good. It’s fine.’ Once I got into the game, I was able to show what I can do and I had a lot of fun. That was definitely a good moment for me and the game was nuts. The stands were shaking and grounds were rocking. College football at its finest.”

Lankford led the Fighting Illini in receiving yards as a junior before his path would ultimately lead north to Saskatchewan following NFL camp stints with Indianapolis and Miami. After 31 games split between the Roughriders, Blue Bombers and Ottawa- where he was cut loose following a loss to Winnipeg on July 5th- he is more than a little excited for his latest chapter as Lion.

“It’s a good fit because orange has always been my favourite colour,” chuckled Lankford.

“I’m excited to get the opportunity to keep playing, keep doing what I love. BC first called me as I was literally driving home and I’m glad to be here.”

Not knowing he would get the chance to sign somewhere else so quickly, Lankford had already decided to split up the 20-hour drive from Ottawa to his home in Jacksonville by making a stop in Washington D.C. to visit members of his extended family. His father Paul, a former defensive back with the Miami Dolphins, and mother Wanda live in Jacksonville.

“I got the call from the Lions on leg one of the trip,” explained Lankford.

“Hearing that they were interested made the drive seem a lot shorter. It was a lot of thinking and a lot of music on the drive. The time went by fast.”

Although he is joining a squad that has struggled to piece together wins in the first third of their season, the speedy Lankford likes what he sees with this group and feels they are more than capable of putting together a winning streak before the post-Labour Day stretch drive comes. His addition should also give them a much-needed boost on special teams, specifically the battle for field position, which has proven to be a big difference in a couple of the Lions’ losses.

“Team speed is something I can add as well as being a good teammate in the locker room,” he said.

“Effort is another big thing. I give it my all on every play without worrying too much about the outcome. I really want to just have fun and show people that I’m here to work and ready to make some plays. I definitely think I can improve the field position and help win some games that way.”

Growing up as the son of a former NFL player certainly motivated the younger Lankford to pursue the same path with that high level of effort he speaks about.

“The Miami Dolphins and football in the state of Florida have always been in my blood,” said Lankford.

“I was born the day of a Monday Night game but didn’t get to go see the Dolphins until after my dad stopped playing. We would go back for the alumni weekends all the time and that was really a lot of fun.”

An unfortunate special teams miscue led to his early departure from the Redblacks, but now that is in the past. And what a backdrop for him in his Lions debut: a chance to go into hostile Regina against the team he debuted with up here almost four years ago.

“I’m excited, man. We could have been playing anywhere. It’s just another opportunity to play this game at a high level and that’s really why I’m here. Whether they have Saskatchewan jerseys on or any coloured jersey, it doesn’t matter. I’m just glad to get the opportunity to do what I love.”

And capitalizing on those has become his speciality.

Matt Baker: