Buono's preparation shows through

Buono's preparation shows through

It doesn't matter if you're starting or backing up, you play to win

Ed Willes The Province

Sunday, September 30, 2007

If you were just going by the CFL standings, you'd look at the B.C. Lions' 9-3-1 record and assume it was just another Wally Buono campaign because the man tends to pump out 12- and 13- win seasons the way a slot machine pumps out quarters.

Except, of course, it's been anything but just another year for the Leos.

To refresh your memory, there was a point not too long ago when the Lions were winless in three straight, quarterbacks 1 and 1A were out of the lineup indefinitely, their starting middle linebacker and their shutdown cornerback were also out and they were turning the offence over to Jarious Jackson, who'd just thrown three interceptions in his first-ever CFL start.

They were, in short, in worse shape than Vladimir Krutov. And if ever a team looked like it was poised to collapse, it was the Lions.

So what happened? Five weeks ago, they crushed the Montreal Alouettes like a grape and have now won three straight and four of their last five while again establishing themselves as the Grey Cup favourite. All of which raises another question, 'How did they do it?'

Turns out the answer isn't all that complicated.

"Wally sets an atmosphere where you're expected to win at all costs," said middle linebacker Javier Glatt. "It doesn't matter who gets hurt or what happens in the game.

"Everyone across the league will say that but it's truly enforced here. Winning is what's expected and it's expected from everyone who comes in. If our first quarterback gets hurt, or our second quarterback gets hurt, we're still expected to win. That's the program that's set up here."

And they've gotten with that program in a big way.

Saturday night, the Lions clinically dismantled the Calgary Stampeders 42-9, putting a figure-four leglock on the Western Conference pennant with a performance that was complete and dominating on both sides of the ball.

The defence held Calgary quarterbacks Akili Smith and Barrick Nealy to 259 puny yards in total offence without surrendering a touchdown.

Jackson, for his part, led the offence to two touchdown drives on their first two possessions and finished the night with a Montana-esque 23-of-28 for 307 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Five weeks ago, when he took over for Buck Pierce who took over for Dave Dickenson, Jackson looked like he had a better chance of cloning sheep than taking this team on a 4-1 run and securing first place. But here he is, the hottest quarterback in the CFL and, if he plays out the string, it's conceivable he could receive All-Star consideration.

Did we mention he started this year as the Lions' third-string quarterback?

Now, Jackson deserves waterfront property in West Van for his efforts this season but the Lions' play over the last five games is also a testimonial to Buono, his staff and the culture they've created. There isn't another team in the CFL that could withstand the loss of its starter -- look at what happened to Calgary last night without Henry Burris, look at what's about to happen to Edmonton without Ricky Ray -- let alone its starter and its No. 2.

But, when Pierce was lost in Week 8, the Lions turned to Jackson with the understanding he'd get the job done, and he's held up his end of the bargain.

Again, this is a direct reflection of Buono. It took him a couple of years here to build this organization but the construction is now complete and it's very much in his image. The Lions are tough, they're deep but most of all, they're professionals and that's from their best players to kids like Ricky Foley, who forced a fumble last night, and Josh Boden, who caught his first three CFL passes.

"It shows the depth of our team and the depth of their character," said defensive back Mark Washington, a Buono-player if ever there was one. "We have guys here who are high-character men. We know when we face a little hardship, it won't defeat us."

And it doesn't look like anything else will, either.

why on earth would you copy and paste an article that's on the front page?

He figures different font makes it easier for all to read, maybe??