SURREY, B.C. – When Solomon Elimimian first connected with the B.C. Lions, he knew little about the CFL.
But three years later, he knows much more. And with that increased knowledge, he’s putting off his dream of playing in the NFL, at least for now, to remain with the Lions.
“I’d rather be here and I say that sincerely,” Elimimian said from the Lions’ practice facility Monday.
Elimimian met with reporters for the first time since signing a two-year contract with B.C. on Friday, which was the first day of CFL free agency. Elimimian was expected to pursue NFL options like he did last year when he left B.C. for tryouts with the Minnesota Vikings and Cleveland Browns before returning to the Lions for the balance of the 2012 CFL campaign.
But Elimimian, a 26-year-old native of Nigeria who grew up in Los Angeles, surprised many by re-signing with B.C. In fact, Lions GM Wally Buono said he didn’t know as late as Friday morning what Elimimian would do.
After speaking with his family and praying, Elimimian said he reached the decision to remain with the Lions.
“It was a long process because that’s the dream,” said Elimimian of playing in the NFL.
Elimimian said he was so touched by how Buono, Lions coaches and teammates embraced him upon his return from the NFL that he left more lucrative CFL offers from “at least four teams” on the table to re-sign with B.C.
“I’m where I want to be and money, it’s not everything,” he said. “I feel that I’m getting more in happiness being here than going to another team.”
The Lions will have two standout linebackers in their lineup. Elimimian was the CFL’s rookie of the year in 2010 and a league all-star the next year when the Lions captured the Grey Cup.
Adam Bighill replaced Elimimian at middle linebacker last season and was a league all-star also. Elimimian played mainly outside linebacker and on special teams upon his return, registering just 12 defensive tackles and six on special teams in six games while nursing a knee injury.
Lions coach Mike Benevides must figure out how to deploy Elimimian and Bighill but having two all-star linebackers certainly gives Benevides plenty of flexibility.
More importantly, Benevides said there’s no doubt Elimimian is where he wants to be.
“(The NFL) wasn’t what he wanted to (do), and he’s clear in his decision, clear in the process of his rehab, and (he) clearly wants to be here and wants to be a dominant player in this league,” Benevides said. “We’re going to have an outstanding Solomon Elimimian on our team.”
Elimimian didn’t rule out taking another shot at the NFL but said he has nothing to prove as he prepares for the 2013 CFL season.
He only wants to show he can dominate like he did before he left for the NFL and help the Lions win another Grey Cup. Elimimian is in a much better frame of mind now than he was when he returned in 2012 while dealing with the knee injury.
“Coming back was unexpected,” he said. “Within a week, you get cut and then you’re back to Canada, so you’re not mentally prepared for that. Also I was hurt, struggling with injuries.
“It’s a tough process, but I’m glad I’m back mentally, I’m glad I’m back physically and I’m excited. I’m ready to go to work.”
Buono signed Elimimian in 2010 after he had been out of football for a year and attended Lions’ free agent camps in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The Lions’ GM said Elimimian will be much more motivated now that he has explored his NFL options and decided to return to the CFL.
“This is very common because the American player that comes here has an American dream,” said Buono. “And you can’t blame him. It’s like if you’re a hockey player and you’re a Canadian, how could you not dream of playing in the NHL? I did.
“So just translate it into football. Now, they come. Now, they have an opportunity to live that dream. So it’s hard not to take it.”
Buono said Elimimian had to adjust to being just another player in the NFL, getting “thrown out like garbage” and returning to the CFL with his dreams shattered.
“He’s more motivated today, I guarantee you, than he would’ve been in September,” said Buono. “He’s going to train hard, he’s getting that passion back to be the best he can be.”
NOTES: Elimimian’s return has raised questions about whether the Lions can afford to keep linebacker Anton McKenzie. However, Benevides said he wants McKenzie to stay . . . Buono said the club has agreed to terms with veteran offensive lineman Jon Hameister-Ries, who is recovering from off-season back surgery, but is waiting for him to receive medical clearance to play . . . Buono expects to know before the 2013 CFL draft in April whether offensive lineman Kirby Fabien, a 2012 first-round pick, will pursue NFL options. Fabien remained at the University of Calgary after being drafted by B.C. and if he pursues the NFL, Buono said, the Lions will have to consider taking another offensive lineman in April.