Conventional football wisdom suggests the Calgary Stampeders’ best chance to knock off the B.C. Lions in November 18th’s Canadian Football League western final is to attack the Lions where they are most vulnerable. But if they think Adam Bighill—in his first year as starting middle linebacker and without experience in a playoff pressure cooker—represents the weakest link in B.C.’s defence, the Stamps are setting themselves up for disappointment.
Although Bighill doesn’t boast a vast résumé of big games at the professional level, the 24-year-old has a season of stellar performances under his belt and can hardly wait for the opportunity to make an impact, with a trip to the Grey Cup hanging in the balance.
A year ago, Bighill suited up for both the western final and the Grey Cup, but he only saw duty on special teams. That was his role as a rookie, and he was just happy to have the job. But times have changed, and so, too, have the expectations for the Montesano, Washington, native who’ll be a big part of the Lions’ efforts to keep Stampeder running back—and finalist for both CFL’s most outstanding player and top Canadian awards—Jon Cornish in check.
The Stamps will surely test Bighill, but he believes he’s up to the challenge.
“I’ve been there, and I know what the environment is like,” Bighill tells the Georgia Straight in an interview at the Lions’ training facility in Surrey when asked about drawing on the experiences of a year ago. “I know what is expected of me. I know how everybody steps up their game when it comes to playoffs. I’ve been there and seen it, and I know how to react and do it myself, only now I have a lot more opportunity to make plays and be more of a significant factor in the game.”
And Bighill’s significance to the Lions’ success and a league-best 13-5 record was easy for anyone who watched the team play this season. The Central Washington University grad was all over the field, recording 104 tackles and four interceptions, and chipping in with nine quarterback sacks. A testament to his well-rounded performance, Bighill was the only player in the CFL this year to finish in the top 10 in each of those statistical categories.
There were questions at the outset of training camp about how the Lions were going to fill the middle-linebacker spot that had been vacated when Solomon Elimimian took his talents south of the border and signed with the National Football League’s Minnesota Vikings. Things didn’t work out as Elimimian had hoped (he returned to the Lions in September), but they couldn’t have gone any better for Bighill, who stepped in and stepped up, becoming a team leader in just his first full year on the job.
And it’s been Bighill’s steady progression that leaves head coach Mike Benevides with no hesitation about how the young linebacker will handle the pressure of being an every-down player for the first time in the playoffs.
“I think if Adam plays like he has all year, we’ll be fine,” Benevides says confidently. “He’s played sound football; he’s made big plays; he’s a huge tackler; and he’s passionate about it. I’ve learned that if your try to change who you are because of the situation you’re in, you’re going to fail. Stick to your core beliefs, be consistent, play to your skills, and you’ll be fine. Playoff football is different because of what’s at stake, but the approach to playoff football has to be the same, and I know Adam’s going to be ready.”
Football is the ultimate team game, and Bighill certainly knows he hasn’t done anything on his own. He’s had plenty of help from a remarkable supporting cast to establish himself as one of the premier defensive players in the league. Case in point is the fact that he was one of four Lion defenders named to the CFL’s West Division all-star team and one of 10 Leos overall honoured for their seasons.
The individual accolade lets Bighill know his efforts have not gone unnoticed. But he’s far more concerned with the goal the team set for itself at the start of the year: to repeat as Grey Cup champions. And as good as he has been to this point, Bighill knows that to win the cup again, he’s going to be counted on to come through when most needed.
Without hesitation—and, undoubtedly, to the delight of Lions fans everywhere—Bighill says he’s prepared to raise his level of play in the postseason.
“There is definitely more for me to give—that’s how I approach it,” he says. “I’m happy that I have accomplished what I have, but I’m always looking for more and I’m never satisfied with where I’m at. Adding up all the small things I’ve been able to do and tweaking them just a little bit is going to make me even better. I love being where I am and having the opportunity to perform and make a difference in the game. I feel fortunate and am really excited.”
From spot duty a year ago to being a starter and the type of player who could very easily set the tone for the Lions in their biggest game of the year, Bighill is prepared for whatever the Stampeders bring to B.C. Place Stadium.
If they want to test the man in the middle, Bighill is ready for the examination. He’s had an answer every time he’s been questioned this season, and he sees no reason why the western final won’t be more of the same.