After a bye week, the Lions have recharged their bodies and minds for the final stretch of the regular season.
Having a few days off was enough leeway to rest the body and keep the brain sharp — with a little bit of reflecting.
Lions’ linebacker Josh Woods joined the team in 2021, late into the season. As he prepares for his first defensive start in place of injured Bo Lokombo on Saturday, it allows the versatile linebacker a chance to reflect on those early days adjusting to CFL life.
Back in 2021, Woods was in contact with the team’s director of U.S. scouting, Ryan Rigmaiden after his pro day. There was a slight chance of Woods getting added to the roster for training camp, but he had to wait until October to sign with the team.
Luckily, his UCLA teammate Stefan Flintoft was already in BC. He provided Woods with a survival guide on how to endure the 2021 Lions season.
“As soon as I knew I was coming, Flint pretty much gave me the rundown on what the team was like, what the facility was like and all the tough things. I kind of knew all that generally. When I get settled in, I met with coach [Travis] Brown and Yano [ then-special teams coordinator Don Yanowsky] as soon as possible,” Woods recalled.
Watching the team let the 21′ season slip by, falling to a 4-8 record all of a sudden, Woods was called up to play against the Stampeders on November 12, 2021, with the season on the line.
“I literally had the worst game ever on special teams. I had two of the biggest penalties and I took a touchdown away from Lucky [Whitehead]. I remember like I might be done. I thought it was going to be it for me,” Woods recalled.
The team was eliminated from playoff contention. With a lot of players like Woods thinking this could be the last time they put on the pads.
“That locker room compared to now, I think there was so much going on. The coach was trying to salvage the year. I mean first year as a staff and a lot of guys were on their way out. Then there were some new guys. They were all great guys, but I think everybody was at different points in their career, and we were trying to figure out our identity,” he recalled.
“We had to go through those tough times to get to where we are at right now. The culture we have right now wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for those tough times. We kept the majority of that 2022 group together, you see how it’s paying off now.”
The Lions coaching staff saw something in Woods that the public eye didn’t after that disappointing loss in his CFL debut. The team brought Woods back in 2022 for a second run.
His goal was to exceed expectations. He was brought in to be a practice roster player with a shot to be on special teams. Woods spent the 2021 offseason figuring out how he could contribute to the Lions.
“2021 gave me a good glimpse of what I needed to work on. Understanding how coverages work differently up here versus America and just being a student to the game. I went into the next rookie camp calm like I was a vet trying to help the new guys. Once the vets arrived, I was the bridge between vets and first-year players,” he recalled.
And the rest of the story is still being written. Woods posted 23 defensive tackles 12 special teams tackles and a pair of sacks in 2022. Despite falling short in the Western Final, Woods and the team grew closer in a 12-6 season.
He became close friends with guys like Dom Rhymes, James Butler and Kevin Francis from the 2022 roster.
With Butler and Francis departing to the East Division, Woods and Rhymes are now roommates.
“Dom and I grew close last season. I can’t wait to see him back on the field. Just his abilities and talent that he brings to the team. He’s the X Factor that changes our team. Even off the field, we try to be the best roommates. If we don’t have the best practice, we help uplift each other,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Lions are coming off the bye-week high-spirited sitting at 8-4, with total control over how the team decides where they want to finish in the standings. Woods will get to face Butler again in Week 19 and Francis in this weekend’s reunion as the squad welcomes in Ottawa.
“Those guys are brothers to me for life. We had dinner with JB when he came to BC. He misses us. We miss him. We were like brothers playing in the backyard, competing and getting the best out of each other,” Woods said.
Butler and the Tiger-cats handed the Lions their fourth loss in Week 12. Woods and the team are trying to make sure that doesn’t happen when Francis and the REDBLACKS visit town this Saturday.
“Winning is fun. The wins in Calgary, against the Riders and Winnipeg. The environment, and our teammates. We look like one of the best locker rooms in sports. I haven’t had this much fun playing ball since high school,” Woods said.
“The time traveling on the plane, off the field playing golf, playing foursquare in the locker room. We have a great group of guys that genuinely like each other, it makes winning richer on the field.”