B.C. Lions veteran OL Angus Reid playing role of mentor
36-year-old lineman helping teach 24-year-old heir apparent Matt Norman
Angus Reid knows the time is coming. It's just a matter of when.
So, at this year's training camp, the longtime B.C. Lions centre is helping the CFL club prepare his replacement for the day when he retires.
"Some people, I know, would struggle with [grooming their successor]," said Reid, 36. "I kind of was the one that spearheaded the idea.
"I've played a lot of football in my life. I love this team. I want to help it win a championship, but I understand that my days are near the end. I always thought my responsibility — or anyone's responsibility, [if] you have a job for a long enough time, is to transition the next person in, and help with that.
"I really enjoy the role. I have some wisdom to pass on, and I have no problem stepping back from time to time and letting the next person start growing."
Second-year pro Matt Norman is the heir apparent to assume the 13-year veteran's role when he finally hangs up his cleats. Norman, a 24-year-old Chateauguay, Que., native who played four seasons at the University of Western Ontario, quickly made an impact as a rookie last season.
He performed a starting role after the Lions offensive line ran into injury troubles in training camp a year ago. Coach Mike Benevides and general manager Wally Buono thought so highly of Norman that they allowed him to leave the team early to get his teaching credentials at Western before the one-year program became a two-year setup.
When the Lions ran into more injury woes in the playoffs, he returned to the club and played in the Western Final.
"I think he's got the right mindset to be able to play centre, if that's exactly where they're going with this, and I'll do anything I can to help," said Reid. "I think he's an extremely talented football player and has a great career ahead of him."
Reid described Norman as even-keeled and cerebral, echoing the comments of Benevides and Buono. According to Reid, the young Lion has the mentality necessary to prepare the offence from a standstill to an explosion of motion after the snap.
"Football is controlled violence," said Reid. "But sometimes, you flirt with that [fine] line a lot, and you become overly violent. And at centre, the decision-making has to take place right before that violence.
"Some lose themselves in that, and get so psyched up [over] what they're going to do."
As a result, the centre, who must call out signals to other linemen, can lose the ability to think clearly in the few seconds before the ball is hiked and fail to communicate properly with his mates.
Benevides said Norman has the "aptitude and attitude" necessary for the position. His low centre of gravity, calmness, intelligence, athleticism, body type, low centre of gravity and power make him a good fit.
"There is so much stress and so much activity at the position of centre, because they quarterback the offensive line," said Benevides.
So what makes Norman so calm?
"Honestly, I really don't know," he said. "That's just the way I've always been. I try and stay calm when I'm out there and make sure I do my job — and do it well, hopefully."
Praising Reid as a great leader and knowledgeable centre, Norman said he will look to the veteran for advice.
"There's a lot to know and a lot of responsibility," said Norman. "It's a very difficult position to play, but I'm up for the challenge."
Norman had no problem accepting the revised role, adding he must take opportunities whenever they arise and will play wherever the coaches want.
Which is a good thing because Reid, who signed a new contract in the off-season, is slated to keep playing for at least a little while longer. Benevides envisions Norman starting at his usual guard spot this season and spelling off Reid at centre periodically.
Norman is not the only potential new centre in the mix. Adam Baboulas, 26, a third-year Lion who has served as a backup offensive lineman and backed up Reid, is also taking reps at camp along with Matt Albright, a 21-year-old rookie out of St. Mary's University.
Benevides has been impressed with both of them during camp, but the coach noted he is limited in the number of offensive linemen that he can keep on the roster. He wants linemen who can play more than one position.
Rookie Kirby Fabien, the team's top draft pick in 2012, is one such player. He can play both guard and tackle and is expected to make the squad. Veteran guard Dean Valli, who suffered a knee injury in training camp last year and was bothered by it all season before undergoing surgery in December, should also provide support once he is healthy enough for game action around the start of the regular season.
As a result, Benevides expressed comfort with the effort to rejuvenate the injury-riddled offensive line — a key challenge after the Lions were upset by the Calgary Stampeders in the 2012 Western Final.
"Right now, we've got some pretty good depth on the offensive line," said Benevides.