The head coach of the B.C. Lions says he’s making tweaks to his lineup in a bid to turn the season around.
Wally Buono said Thursday that he’s trying to find the right ingredients “to build a winning combination” after his team went 3-6 in the first half of the year.
That means bringing in some fresh faces for Friday’s home game against the Ottawa Redblacks (6-4).
Travon Van will replace Chris Rainey as returner, while linebacker Micah Awe makes his season debut. Wide receiver Anthony Parker will also dress and be ready to sub in for Cory Watson at slotback.
“Obviously, we’ve added some good players — I believe — that are going to help out team,” Buono said. “Part of (Friday) night is we’ve got to do a better job and, at times, you’ve got to make changes to do that.”
Awe re-signed with the Lions late last month after the club released him in January so he could try out for the New York Jets.
The 24-year-old said he’s happy to be back on the field, especially given the jobs he held during his months away from football.
“It’s a lot better than doing Uber or (delivery service) Amazon Flex,” he said. ”This is what I love to do right now. I can always become something else later on in life.”
The Texas Tech alumnus had 54 defensive tackles for B.C. last season and made another 16 on special teams, earning a reputation as a hard-hitting, physical player.
By the end of the year, Awe said other teams were starting to put him in their cross-hairs. He’s expecting the same this season.
“I know there’s going to be a target on me,” he said. ”But LeBron James, everyone knows he’s the best player. But can they stop him? Maybe, maybe not.”
Parker also inked a deal with the Lions late last month. The 28-year-old was released by the Calgary Stampeders in June, following seven seasons with the team.
He spent months selling newly built homes in Calgary and training to stay in shape before getting the call from the Leos.
Friday’s match with the Redblacks brought familiar feelings of anticipation, Parker said.
“The day before, I feel like it’s my rookie year again,” he said. ”I’m just excited for the opportunity to get out on the field and play some football.”
He spent the week training with his new teammates, trying to catch up as quickly as possible.
“I was getting whipped into shape pretty fast here this week, then cramming the playbook, obviously trying to learn as much as I can as fast as I can,” he said.
The practices also offered a first-hand glimpse at the squad’s athleticism, Parker said.
“It’s one thing to see it on TV and one thing to read the scouting report, but to be here and practice with the guys, you see there’s no shortage of talent,” he said, adding that they need to take care of details and make plays in order to turn the season around.
Friday night’s game will be crucial for both the Leos and the Redblacks.
Ottawa has won its last three bouts with B.C., including the July 20 match that saw the Redblacks score a late touchdown to secure a 29-25 victory.
But the team is coming off a disappointing 21-17 loss to Montreal last week and needs a win to protect their spot atop the league’s East Division.
For B.C., Friday’s match is an opportunity to hit refresh after a disappointing start to the season, Buono said.
“We have to win the games that we have in hand and we have to win the next game because, right now, the nine games in front of us are all going to be critical,” he said.
Ottawa Redblacks (6-4) at B.C. Lions (3-6)
Saturday, B.C. Place
INJURED ROSE: Defensive back Jonathan Rose won’t be in the Redblacks lineup after the team placed him on the one-game injured list. The 25-year-old has 29 tackles and three interceptions in 10 games for the Redblacks this year. Randall Evans will take Rose’s place at the inside half.
LOSING LEADERS: B.C. may have a 3-6 record through the first half of the season, but the Lions have actually been up by at least 10 points at in every game they’ve played so far. In four games, the Leos were leading going into the final quarter, but split those matches 2-2.
RECEIVING REPEAT?: Ottawa wide receiver Brad Sinopoli will be looking for a encore Friday. The 30-year-old put up the best game of his CFL career when the Redblacks beat the Lions back in July. Sinopoli caught 11 passes in that game for 171 yards and a touchdown.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press