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September 12, 2018

Travis Lulay | Deal Done, One Goal In Mind

Travis Lulay (14) of the BC Lions and Brandon Alexander (21) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the game at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver, BC., on Friday, July 21, 2017. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

It has been almost nine years since he turned heads at the club’s free agent camp in Lake Oswego, Oregon. And although that was a memorable day for Travis Lulay, the 34-year old admitted he never seriously entertained the possibility of playing ten seasons with the BC Lions. On the day he put pen to paper on a one-year contract for this season, the 2011 Most Outstanding Player took a few moments to reflect on just how significant the upcoming milestone will be.

“That is pretty wild to think about. I remember leaving college thinking ten years as a professional football player felt like a pipedream,” Lulay before taking his two older daughters to swimming lessons on Monday.

“This will be my thirteenth year as a pro. On one hand, it feels like a lifetime ago when I was trying to dabble my foot in the pro waters and on the other hand, it has gone really fast. Time flies when you’re having fun. I have enjoyed most of the process, obviously, there have been ups and downs along the way but I still enjoy doing it and feel like I have the heart for it.”

Travis Lulay (14) of the BC Lions before the game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, ON., on Saturday, July 15, 2017. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

Heart is something the 34-year old certainly isn’t lacking. Although he continues to progress in his rehab from last September’s torn ACL, the quarterback says his main focus is being cleared to play. If that doesn’t happen at the start of training camp, or even the regular season then so be it. The fact he recently did his first jump squat since the operation and has been taking part in some light on-field workouts with teammates tells you he has turned a significant corner in the long process.

“I say that cautiously, but yes,” he said.

“There is still a lot of work ahead, and I know that. There is still that little bit of uncertainty on how it will all go on the back end. That being said, I am comfortable where I am at, starting to feel more and more optimistic about the knee coming around. It’s been a steady transition since the New Year. There is a lot of work that goes into it in the first phase. Post-op was hard, but the next phase, I am now closer to 20 weeks post-op, you’re starting to re-introduce some of those athletic movements again.”

Along with getting a clean bill of health, Lulay signed the extension with a pretty lofty goal in mind: to win that elusive second Grey Cup ring. You’ve heard him speak about how he didn’t initially think he would spend ten years with the same organization. It probably also wouldn’t be stretch for him to say he didn’t envision getting back to the big game would be so tough after the magic of 2011, his first full season as the Lions’ starting pivot.

“That’s the one goal. The season doesn’t feel like a complete success unless you win a Grey Cup, that’s just the way it is. That is 100 per cent my focus,” Lulay stated.

“I wouldn’t come back without thinking about basing the season’s success on the opportunity to win a Grey Cup. Wally Buono obviously is highly motivated to get this team back to that point. Ed is highly motivated after leaving a different organization where he was part of a championship as both a player and a general manager. From the player’s point of view, we have a lot of guys who are pros and want to make amends for last season. I’m excited to be included in that mix of guys that want to see us playing championship calibre football again.”

Travis Lulay

Lulay and Ed Hervey didn’t have their first lengthy discussion about 2018 until last Monday, the fifth of February. The new GM wanted to take the time to present his plan and role for the quarterback once he is cleared to play. Jonathon Jennings will begin training camp at the top of the depth chart and you can expect Tuesday’s opening of the free agency period to involve the continued process of building more key pieces around the younger QB to help him get back to the promise he showed two seasons ago. As we know, Lulay is still more than capable of putting up big numbers when called upon.

Travis Lulay (14) of the BC Lions during the game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver, BC., on Friday, July 21, 2017. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

 

He will also be counted on to continue his valuable role of mentoring Jennings. Lulay admitted it was hard to not be impressed with what Hervey had to say and how the GM approached the whole situation with the quarterback’s main priority of getting healthy.

“We had a really good conversation. I feel fortunate, and I have to mention that my agent Dan Vertlieb and Ed have done deals over the years and that helped bridge that gap. Dan kind of helped mediate some of those conversations. When it came time for Ed and me to sit down it went really naturally. That’s a credit to Ed,” Lulay explained.

“We didn’t sit down before New Years and he didn’t say ‘hey I need a timeline.’ On both sides, we knew we would sit down before free agency opened. It wasn’t like I was going to walk blindly into free agency without talking to the club. It all went good and I think everybody is on the same page. Ed is a straight shooter and I am an open book. Nobody is trying to play funny games. I get a really good sense of Ed’s sincerity and how authentic of a guy he is. He means business, he wants to win and he puts off a really good vibe.”

Lulay’s tenth season in orange also brings his fifth different offensive coordinator, former teammate Jarious Jackson. The irony here is the fact Lulay’s emergence as the starter in 2010 in some ways came at the expense of Jackson, and the veteran at the time handled it with class. Lulay, of course, went down the same road when Jennings became the guy late in 2015. It is yet another example of how teamwork goes a long way in this business.

“Jarious and I had a great working relationship. People have talked about me transitioning into a different role with the club and really, Jarious was the guy who showed me how to graciously do that,” Lulay recalled.

“In my first year, Jarious and Buck Pierce were going back and forth as the starter, then Buck got banged up and it looked like Jarious was going to run with it for awhile. He then ended up getting banged up and had surgery at the end of that season. Casey Printers and I wound up getting some playing time. Then my first year as a full-time starter (2011) there was never any weird feelings between me and Jarious. I’ve said it for years: one guy in the quarterback room plays, but everyone contributes to make that position better. It’s pretty interesting to see all of that come full circle.”

You can bet Lulay and the ‘original’ JJ spent a good portion of their time drawing up plays to present to then-offensive coordinator Jacques Chapdelaine. Now the mentor from that era is in the OC chair.

“He gets to draw up the plays and we have to make it go, so it’s pretty,” Lulay added.

“Jarious’ offence will have a little bit of flavour of that system we had in the past. He’s played for Scott Milanovich ( in Toronto) and Jason Maas was a coach over there when they won a Grey Cup in 2012. It feels like Jarious has had intimate knowledge of some of the recent productive offences in this league. He gets to put his own spin on all that here, and that’s an exciting prospect for me.”

Perhaps Lulay will be another fine example of a former quarterback transitioning smoothly into the coaching fraternity. There will be a time and place to talk more about that. For now, number 14 plans on strapping them on for as long as he can. What started in Lake Oswego could certainly have a Fairytale ending… whenever that may be.

Matt Baker: mbaker@bclions.com