Angus Reid has always been willing to bend over backwards — and forwards — for the B.C. Lions.
But years of bending, sometimes awkwardly, will prevent the veteran centre from suiting up Friday in his team's CFL season opener in Calgary against the Stampeders. Reid is suffering from a jammed sacroiliac, or SI, joint and a torn ligament in his lower back.
His return date is uncertain.
"It's from doing what I've done a long time in my life — being in that squat position and taking pounding," said Reid, 36, who has spent his entire 13-year CFL career with the Lions.
"It's a shocking thing that it hasn't happened to me earlier in my career."
Reid has played in all of the Lions' regular-season and playoff games over the past three years. He has only missed two games — in 2009 — since his rookie season in 2001, when he played just four games with Montreal and B.C.
The Richmond, B.C., native, who has endured numerous injuries while often playing in pain, practised Wednesday, but agreed with the coaching staff's decision to give his aching back a chance to heal.
"It's a long season," said Reid, who missed most of training camp and B.C.'s two pre-season games. "I don't think anyone wants to risk putting [me] out there too early and risk doing more damage."
As a result, second-year pro Matt Norman, who was to be groomed slowly as Reid's eventual replacement, will start much sooner than expected.
"It speeds up the process," said Reid. "I came into the season fully wanting to make the transition happen, and here we are doing it. I'm not sitting here saying 'I'm not going to play football anymore.' I'll be back at some point this season. I don't know when."
Norman, a guard in a 2012 rookie season who was split between the CFL and his teaching studies at the University of Western Ontario, only started to learn the craft of hiking the ball shortly before training camp.
Reid, coach Mike Benevides and quarterback Travis Lulay all say Norman has been a quick student while learning the difficult task of calling plays for the offensive linemen while also snapping the ball during the two pre-season games.
Learning the playbook
"There's a lot of data," said Benevides. "There's a lot of information. Physically, he's done an outstanding job. Cerebrally, it's getting better for him because he gets to see the [defensive] looks now that he gets to concentrate on the opponent."
Norman says his most difficult task has been learning the playbook.
"I'm just trying to get really comfortable with it — out of the practice, outside of the game — and then try to execute as well as I can when I step out on to the field," said the 25-year-old, who will also snap on field goals.
But he will not be the only young Lions player in a vital role due to injury against the Stampeders, who upset favoured B.C. in last year's West Division final. Veteran kicker Paul McCallum remains sidelined with a groin injury suffered in warmup before the final pre-season game.
As a result, Hugh O'Neill will finally get to kick in a CFL regular-season game after serving as McCallum's understudy for the past two years.
"It's awesome — I'm definitely looking forward to it," said O'Neill. "It's been a long time coming. I'm just looking forward to helping the team out as best I can. The last little while, it's been in practice. Hopefully, now, I can do it in a game."
Benevides and general manager Wally Buono planned to have McCallum, 43, and O'Neill, 23, share the kicking duties this season. Depending on the length of his hiatus, McCallum, who is in his 21st CFL season, will focus on field goals while his protege takes care of kick-offs. Punting duties have yet to be finalized.
O'Neill is keen to handle all three duties against the Stampeders.
"I've always viewed myself as an all-around kicker/punter," he said. "I try and make myself as proficient as possible in all three facets. Pre-season was great, because I got the chance to do all three for both games."
In the first exhibition contest, when McCallum was rested, O'Neill went 5-for-5 and booted the winning field goal in poor weather conditions in Calgary. He did not attempt any three-pointers in a loss to Edmonton in the second pre-season game.
The Lions might also have to do without another key veteran on defence. Middle linebacker Solomon Elimimian's status is questionable due to an ankle injury. If he can't go, Anton McKenzie will take his place in the lineup.
"We're going to see what kind of team we've got right away," said Benevides. "We're just going to challenge our depth, but I feel very good about that. I think that's where one of the strengths of our club lies."