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The calendar may have just flipped to February, but you get the sense the Western Division arms race is already heating up. Especially when it comes to the pass rush.
Not two hours after the Saskatchewan Roughriders picked up Charleston Hughes in a similar deal with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Ed Hervey pulled a defensive end flip of his own, prying the talented and charismatic Odell Willis from the Ottawa Redblacks. The deal was consummated mere moments after the Edmonton Eskimos shipped Willis to our nation’s capital.
Once he was able to comprehend it all, the 33-year old Willis admitted he was just as surprised as everyone else.
“I found out on Instagram while I was working out,” explained Willis from his off-season home in Atlanta.
“When I checked my phone I had a whole bunch of notifications and text messages.”
Given the rare circumstances of this trade, it is safe to say the Eskimos wanted no part of Willis ending up with a division rival. Hervey would only go as far as to say he and his brass are excited to add a veteran of Willis’ calibre.
“The most important thing is that we found a way to get him here. I think the main story is the BC Lions are getting an accomplished pass rusher, a good guy and a great personality to add to our football team,” said Hervey.
Once being traded (twice) really began to sink in, Willis couldn’t help but get a little giddy at the idea of playing under CFL all-time wins leader Wally Buono.
“That’s a big thing. He’s the Godfather, man. His resume speaks for itself,” said the two-time CFL All-Star.
“When you’re in his presence you just pay your homage to him. Whatever knowledge you can give you just soak up and take from him.”
There are indeed many reasons to be excited. Willis is reunited with his old GM in Edmonton, the pair won a Grey Cup together in 2015, and also gets a chance to wear the same colours as one of the other charismatic players in this league, Emmanuel Arceneaux. The trash talking at practice might be a little livelier in 2018 and the guy once dubbed “Mayor of Swaggerville” for his antics in Winnipeg is ready to roll.
— BC Lions (@BCLions) March 22, 2017
“I’ve actually been impeached twice,” laughed Willis about his political nickname.
“I just want to make a couple of guest appearances on the Manny Show and see if I can get a little buzz going. I’m excited because I know the type of player and person he is. You need that combo sometimes. The offence needs to pump up the defence and vice versa. It’s going to be fun to play with guys like Manny and Solomon Elimimian. I like motivating guys in practice. Iron sharpens iron.”
You can say the addition of the nine-year veteran instantly gives Hervey and Buono a better defensive line, something the GM was anxious to address upon taking over his post in late November.
In 2017, Willis recorded 22 defensive tackles and his eight quarterback sacks were the fourth highest total of any player. Half of those came over two victories against the Lions in week one and week six.
“You have to be able to get to the quarterback and he has a proven track record,” added Hervey.
“Obviously with the other guys we have like Knapton, Brooks and everyone else, it’s another player added to the mission of improving our defensive line. We’re not saying that this is a final move that solidifies things. We have a long way to go and a lot of work to do in the offseason, but we’re excited about the pace that we’re on and very happy with the fact that things are starting to fall into place. Some of these things take time. It’s very difficult to pull off these type of trades. We were able to do it and we feel good about it.”
Willis’ Blue Bombers lost the 2011 Grey Cup to Elimimian and company. The result could have been much different had Willis not dropped what would have been a clear pick-six to inch closer with plenty of time left in the fourth quarter. Looking back on that now, Willis can’t help but think of how awesome it would be to get a ring wearing orange.
“Barron Miles was on my coaching staff in Edmonton and we used to always talk about that game. The crowd in 2011 was one of the biggest I ever played in front of. It was the first year the stadium re-opened and to play in a game like that was really exciting. I’m really looking forward to playing in front of those fans and giving them something to cheer about.”
We get the sense he will become a fan favourite rather quickly. It also goes down as another nice coup for a GM who hasn’t been afraid to pull the trigger on a couple key roster moves early in his tenure.
“Everybody is going to do what is best for their football teams,” said Hervey.
“We don’t necessarily look at what other teams are doing, we just continue to build ours. The West is very competitive and it’s only getting more competitive with the moves teams are making.”
The line of scrimmage will certainly be an area to watch in training camp.