VANCOUVER — Solomon Elimimian says there is still room for growth in his game as if the B.C. Lions middle linebacker eyes another spot in the CFL record book.
The league’s reigning most outstanding defensive player came within a tackle of equalling the CFL record for tackles in a game when he had 15 takedowns last week in the Lions’ win over the Montreal Alouettes.
Elimimian is looking for a 16-tackle performance when the Lions return to face another East Division opponent on the road when they face the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Saturday. If he’s successful, Elimimian would share the record with Reggie Hunt, who had 16 tackles in a 2003 game while with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Elimimian, who became first defensive player in Lions history to have more than 600 tackles after his performance in Montreal, still thinks he’s capable of more. The 30-year-old knew he would have a different role this season once fellow linebacker Adam Bighill left the Lions last winter to join the training camp of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints.
In addition to taking on a greater leadership role, Elimimian also has had more chances for tackles without Bighill.
“It’s a challenge playing without Adam,” said Elimimian, named one of the league’s top performers of Week 3. “Every time he made a play, I wanted to make a play. There’s more onus on me defensively this year to make sure we’re on the same page but it comes with the territory.
“I’m sure (young players) look at me the same way guys looked at (former Lions defensive greats) Ryan Phillips, Korey Banks and Brent Johnson. It’s different. It’s harder. I have to make sure I’m sharp because if things falter I have to look at myself first.”
Individual accolades are nothing new to Elimimian, who has been in the league for eight years and won four major awards. Only Russ Jackson (7), Doug Flutie (6), Tony Gabriel (5) and Willie Pless (5) have more.
A player with such a decorated resume might be a difficult teammate, but those around Elimimian say his ego is held in check.
“Sometimes when guys are getting a lot of accolades they become me-first guys. Solly is very vocal, and he communicates with everyone,” said Lions linebacker Tony Burnett, who has replaced Bighill in the club’s defensive alignment this season. “Although he’s getting the spotlight he includes us in everything.”
There is a small point of frustration, however.
“It’s kind of tough to have two guys get 15 tackles at the same time,” Burnett said, grinning.
B.C returns to the site of its most well-rounded performance of the 2016 season when they beat quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and the Ticats 28-3 at Tim Hortons Field. Hamilton, 0-2 prior to its home regular season opener Saturday, has scored just one offensive touchdown in eight quarters during which they have only led in 5:02 of play.
Hamilton head coach Kent Austin and offensive co-ordinator Stefan Ptaszek have taken turns calling plays in the Ticats’ two losses.
However, Hamilton’s record does not have the Lions looking past their next opponent and looming intradivisional play, despite the club’s stellar record against East Division opponents. Since the start of the 2016 season, B.C is 6-0 on the road and 9-1 overall against the East.
“They have a dangerous mindset,” Elimimian said of the Tiger-Cats and quarterback Zach Collaros. “It’s a must win for them we have to have the same intensity the last two weeks which is to not take anything for granted.”
Elimimian, who became the first defensive starter in league history to be named the league’s most outstanding player in 2014, looks at his tackle totals the same way.
“When I had 15 tackles (against Montreal), I was mad I didn’t get 16 or 17, but I made all the plays that came to me,” he said. “Records are records. I won MOP in 2014 and for a second I was happy but I couldn’t share it with my teammates because we didn’t win the Grey Cup that year. That’s what really matters the most to me.”