No signs of slowing down

To many, it’s a minor miracle for 32-year-old football player to remain a productive pro.

Adam Bighill reached that milestone birthday late last year and if the first two weeks of training camp are an accurate gauge, the eight-year CFL veteran and five-time league all-star hasn’t shown any obvious signs of slowing down.

While a number of vets and rookies have missed time with various nicks and ailments, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers middle linebacker has been a constant. He’s been ever present, not missing a day of workouts so far.

“My mentality is to be on the field, so I’m not going to come off the field unless I’m pulled off by (head athletic therapist) Al (Couture),” said Bighill after Friday’s morning workout. “And even then, I’m fighting him. So that’s me.”

Bighill’s form has earned the stamp of approval of defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall.

“He’s in great shape, he looks good, he’s running around… It’s not Adam Bighill being 32,” said Hall. “It’s Adam Bighill being a football player and him coming out here and continuing to challenge himself, to push the bar and to make himself a better player.”

This comes as no surprise to head coach Mike O’Shea, who puts Bighill’s dedication to his craft on another level.

“He won’t miss an opportunity to lead,” said O’Shea. “He’ll have eyes on everything, He’ll have great understanding of what everybody’s doing around him… He’s ever mindful and here’s what that takes: He’s got to be present all the time, right? So he’s not daydreaming and standing there… just letting a rep go by without thinking about it.

“He’s talking about football all the time, he’s paying attention, he’s got his eyes on the rest of his teammates to see what’s going on.”

While Bighill has thrived with his team back on the field, the extended off-season was a struggle.

Bighill reportedly took a $145,000 pay cut from the $260,000 salary he was scheduled to receive in 2021. It was the largest salary reduction accepted by a member of the Blue Bombers as the franchise manoeuvred to make ends meet during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Curiously, he seems more motivated than ever.

“I’m always trying to prove something,” said Bighill. “… My situation obviously wasn’t ideal. And, you know, I’m gonna play to the level that I always play and when we get back to a normal year, I anticipate that my play is gonna reflect in my next contract… I’m out here to be the best football player I can be, one of the best to ever do it. My work and and everything that goes into playing this game, that’s what I play for.”

He has ambition to be one of the best players in the CFL history although he won’t admit to having a timetable for retirement in mind.

“When I don’t want to compete anymore is probably when I’ll want to be done,” said Bighill. “I’m such a competitive person and I still have that fire… If I’m competing, I’m all in. And that means training, diet, sleep, film, flexibility… everything, right? I feel like no one’s going to outwork me when I want to compete. And that’s why I feel like I can compete at the level I do and I can play as long as I want to based on those factors.”

In 2019, injuries limited him to 15 regular-season games. His 61 defensive tackles were his lowest total since he was a rookie in 2011 after three consecutive seasons of 105 or more.

The numbers, he said, fail to tell the complete story.

“I wasn’t 100 per cent healthy but I wasn’t out there being a liability either,” said Bighill. “I mean, when it came to performance… I did my job in 2019 and I’m proud to be a part of a defence where I’m doing my job… If my stats are down (it was) because I missed a couple games. We were also at the least ran-on team in the entire CFL so it wasn’t like we had a ton of opportunities to make tackles in the box.”

A veteran defence has returned, mostly intact, and Bighill has high hopes for another championship season in 2021. A compressed pre-season, made necessary by pandemic restrictions, has taken a heavier toll in training camp and Winnipeg heads out at warp speed toward an Aug. 5 home opener against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

“This camp is a little different, a little bit more of a grind,” said Bighill. “We’ve had some bodies kind of going down (and) some guys taking a little bit of rest so reps start to get put on more guys… It’s been a little bit different, but… I think it’s what we really expected at the same time. We expected it would be be a harder camp, expected to be a little bit different for guys coming back after not playing ball in so long.”

ADJUSTING ON THE FLY: With veteran defensive back Mercy Maston out for the season with an Achilles tendon injury, the hunt is on for his replacement.

Earlier this week, Blue Bombers GM Kyle Walters acquired veteran Alden Darby from the Toronto Argonauts — shipping import offensive lineman Terry Poole east — to help plug the hole.

“Our front is absolutely scary, that’s for sure,” said Bighill of Winnipeg’s defence. “… And our back end, we’ve been looking to find the right mix of guys and we got a lot of great bodies in camp. Great DBs are coming in and competing and it’s been fun to watch.”

Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

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