VANCOUVER — Travis Lulay knows how isolating it can feel for an injured football player when he sits on the sidelines.
Athletes spend a lot of time and effort getting ready for their team, so not being able to play is mentally challenging, said the veteran B.C. Lions quarterback.
“You gotta get over it quickly and not feel too sorry for yourself and your circumstance, because that’s the only way you’re going to be ready to mentally to come back when the body does come around,” Lulay said.
That’s a challenge some of his colleagues are already facing this CFL season, where four starting quarterbacks have been injured in a matter of weeks.
Matt Nichols hurt his knee at Blue Bombers training camp and sat out the first three games of the year. He’s expected to be back in the lineup Saturday when Winnipeg hosts the Lions.
Saskatchewan’s Zach Collaros suffered a head injury in Week 2 and is expected to be sidelined for six games. The same week, Toronto’s Ricky Ray was hurt so badly in a match against Calgary that sources have said he’s likely done for the season.
Montreal’s Drew Willy suffered what coach Mike Sherman has called a stinger to the neck or shoulder in Week 3. The Alouettes have said he’ll be evaluated day to day.
Lulay, who’s spent more than his fair share of time on the Lions’ bench with knee problems, has been reaching out in the past few weeks to guys he’s gotten to know off the field.
“You can feel a bit on an island when (injuries) happen so it’s nice to just hear from some friends to know they’re thinking about you and all that. But guys are mentally tough,” he said.
The league is a fraternity and it can be hard to watch your buddies get hurt, said Trevor Harris, quarterback for the Ottawa Redblacks.
At the end of the day, preventing injuries comes down to taking care of yourself, he said.
“You just have to do everything possible to keep your muscles pliable and eat right and condition right so you can hopefully get yourself ready to take those hits so you don’t end up missing games,” Harris said.
This season’s injuries bring back memories of 2015 for Edmonton Eskimos’ quarterback Mike Reilly.
“I was injured in the first game. I think Darian (Durant) went down that same week. I think that year there was seven or eight starters who went down for a length of time,” he said.
Losing players hurts competition, Reilly added.
“I say all the time I want to play against the best players in the league. I want to watch the best players play,” he said. ”Starters are starters for a reason. They give your team the best opportunity to win, but football is football and injuries happen.”
CFL data going back to 1996 shows that losing a No. 1 quarterback can hamper a team’s performance.
A team’s win percentage drops from 55 per cent when their starting quarterback is available to 30 per cent when he’s out, and the game becomes much more defensive, said Steve Daniel, the league’s head statistician.
“To win in this league, you really need an elite quarterback,” he said.
Redblacks coach Rick Campbell said it’s possible for teams to take advantage of opponents who are playing without their top QBs, because the CFL is quarterback driven.
“But we normally don’t get caught up in that. We just assume we’re always going to get people’s best,” he said, adding that everyone wants to see players staying healthy.
What’s unusual about this season is how early injuries have sidelined a number of stars, said Lions coach Wally Buono.
“Some very good football players have been hurt,” he said. “It’s just part of the game, unfortunately. And hopefully for the guys that are beat up, it’s not long term.”
Over the course of his 23-year-long coaching career, there have been injuries that made Buono cringe. But he said many of those have prompted changes to player safety, including rules about how and where quarterbacks can be hit.
“As I’ve said before, football is the safest it’s ever been as far as the rules, the style of play, the equipment,” he said. “But injuries are a part of what football’s about.”