O'Leary: Claybooks, Lions excited for first home contest
They know the game itself won’t count, that the stats recorded basically evaporate when the clock hits all zeroes on Friday night, but Mike Reilly and DeVone Claybrooks are still excited to make their debut at BC Place.
Reilly, the prized free-agent quarterback, and Claybrooks, the longtime coveted next-great-head-coach-in-waiting, will get their first feel for their new(ish) respective home field when the BC Lions host the Calgary Stampeders (10 p.m. ET, TSN2). It’s the CFL’s final game on the pre-season schedule.
Of course, the Lions’ locker room isn’t unfamiliar territory for Reilly. He started his career in BC in 2010, backing up Travis Lulay before joining the Edmonton Eskimos in 2013. Reilly spent six seasons in Edmonton and established himself as an elite QB in the league, throwing for 26,929 yards, 144 touchdowns and rushing for 3,162 yards and 47 TDs. He led Edmonton to a Grey Cup in 2015 and won the MOP award in 2017.
“It’ll be weird to be in that home locker room,” said Reilly, after the Lions made the trip from training camp in Kamloops, BC, back to their training facility in Surrey.
“It’ll be a nice change to be on the home side, for sure. BC Place is a great place to play football. I’ve always enjoyed it. It’ll be fun to get out there and play with the guys that I’ve been working with the last three weeks on the field but really the last three or four months. I’m looking forward to it.”
“I’m excited,” said Claybrooks, who was on the Stamps’ coaching staff the last seven years. The team will give him his 2018 Grey Cup ring before kickoff.
“The buzz has been going around for the last few months. It’s been awesome,” he said. “We’re excited to see the house rocking.”
Spending the last three weeks together in Kamloops for training camp wasn’t without its difficulties — “It was a battle (against) the mosquitoes and they won,” Claybrooks joked — but for a group of many new faces it forced the players to get to know one another. The skill on this team isn’t in question, but the faster they can develop chemistry the better it’ll help them when the games start to count next week.
“It was sad to (leave Kamloops). We had great family bonding (time),” Claybrooks said.
“We laid a solid foundation, something we can build off of in the season.”
“To be honest, I think we only had one fight during training camp. That’s pretty uncommon,” said defensive back Aaron Grymes, another big free-agent signing for the Lions, who was a teammate of Reilly’s on that 2015 Grey Cup-winning Edmonton team.
“When you’re in Kamloops everyone goes back to the dorm together, so you spend literally all day together, which gets old after a few weeks but it’s good. I think it helped us jell together and get that chemistry going a little faster.”
While training camp accelerated that process, it’s one that players and the coaching staff have been working on for months.
“I honestly feel like we’ve got great chemistry already,” Lions receiver Bryan Burnham said.
“Mike and I along with Shaq Johnson, Lamar Durant, we’ve been throwing out here in Surrey before we even went to Kamloops.
“We’ve stayed in contact, we know each other pretty well, our wives have met. I look at (Reilly) not just as a teammate but he’s a friend of mine now. I think we’re going to hit the ground rolling, I really do. And I’m excited to kind of not talk about it and show it (on Friday).”
“I really do think that championship teams are the ones that are the closest off the field and it was good to see how the guys interacted and got to know each other and worked together,” Reilly said.
“I think that’s what training camp is all about and we certainly accomplished that.”
Talk of championship teams came up more than once on Thursday. Despite this being a new group, the Lions are clear in their intentions. They want to be a great team for a long time, but they’re not taking anything for granted this year.
“We believe it,” Grymes said.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to win a Grey Cup in this league…and I get that feeling right now, coming out of training camp. The competition, the coaching staff, the playbook, things like that. Guys flying around.”
When you add a quarterback like Reilly to your team, hopes are instantly raised.
“You add Mike Reilly to any team in the league and it’s going to make them better immediately,” Burnham said.
“The way he commands the huddle (and) his input on and off the field with the playbook, I mean it’s pretty impressive to see it. You’ve heard about it over the years but to see it first-hand I’ve been very impressed.”
Burnham sees a fearless offence this year and one that will run smoother than in years past.
“Nothing against the guys that we’ve had but when you bring a Mike Reilly in… he’s going to command the huddle, he’s going to command the offence. He’s not going to allow guys to be out of place,” he said.
“I think our offence is going to be much more efficient this year and fans can expect a lot of big plays.”
They’ll get a glimpse of that on Friday.