Top rookie back with Bombers

Winnipeg Blue Bombers wide receiver Kenny Lawler was relatively unknown at the beginning of the 2019 season, but he’s not flying under the radar anymore.At the time, all the attention belonged to receiver Chris Matthews who was making his triumphant return to Winnipeg. Matthews, who won the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie award with the Bombers in 2012 prior to three NFL seasons and a Grey Cup championship run with the Calgary Stampeders in 2018, was expected to be a focal point on offence for the Blue and Gold as he was fresh off of signing a three-year contract with the team.But after six games, the Bombers released Matthews. Yes, injuries, underwhelming play, and financial reasons all played into the decision, but ultimately the Bombers felt more comfortable letting their prized free-agent signing go as they believed they had a rookie who could fill in admirably.And they were right. In a run-heavy offence, Lawler led the Bombers with 637 receiving yards on 41 receptions with four touchdowns en route to being named the team’s Most Outstanding Rookie. Assuming there is a 2021 CFL season, Lawler will return to Bomberland and build off his impressive rookie campaign. On Wednesday, the Bombers announced they’ve signed a one-year contract extension with Lawler. The 26-year-old out of the University of California was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on Feb. 9. “When they released (Chris Matthews) and they came to me and told me ‘We believe in you. We want you to be the starter,’ and all that sort of stuff, it was just a big confidence boost. For me to have that big confidence boost in my rookie campaign, I really felt like it was needed for me to really just show it on the field,” Lawler told media on a conference call Wednesday afternoon. “I knew I’m a dawg. I know I can go out there and play. But just having to split time, be on the field and off the field not because of injuries, but just because you can’t have that many people out there, it was hard to deal with. But once everything happened, I just really felt like I was ready to just fly and really just hit the league and take it for myself.”Last Sunday, the CFL free agency communication window opened up which allows clubs to negotiate with other teams’ pending free agents. The Bombers wasted no time in taking advantage of the rule as they were in discussions with star free agent wideout Bryan Burnham who ultimately decided to re-sign with the B.C. Lions on Monday. Bringing back Lawler, who’s one of the ‘lucky’ ones who didn’t have to take a pay cut as he was getting paid the CFL’s minimum salary of $65,000 in 2019, will soften the blow of missing out on an all-star in Burnham for Bombers GM Kyle Walters. Lawler, a Ponoma, Calif., native, feels he’s only scratched the surface.”In 2021, I have goals,” Lawler said.”Man, I see myself being an all-star. I see myself being a 1,000-yard receiver. I see myself being one of those top three guys. For me, I’d be selling myself short if I say anything less. I know what I’m capable of.”With the 2020 CFL season cancelled, Lawler asked the Bombers for his release in August in hopes of landing a contract with an NFL team. It ultimately didn’t work out, but Lawler didn’t use his time away from the game as a vacation.”There was interest, but you know, this whole COVID kind of really shut things down. The workouts were going a little bit different and it just was harder to get a guy like me in,” said Lawler, a seventh-round pick by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2016 NFL draft. “My 2020 ended up just with me working. Waking up every day at 6 a.m. to clock in with my pops. We were on the track field Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and we’d be out there for like two hours getting it in, working on (my 40-yard dash), cause you know, NFL teams want to see me try and improve my speed. After we’d do our speed workout, I’d go to a private gym… Man, we’d just get it in once again in the weight room. I was just doing double days from really, from March all the way to December.”A second straight year without being able to play would be devastating for an up and coming player like Lawler, but he’s encouraged that he’ll be making highlight catches at IG Field in 2021.”It’s just been hard mentally because man, I’m such a competitor. I’m just a hard working dude who wants to be out there doing what I love,” he said.”Football is what I love and it’s obviously how I help support my family… It’s just hard to deal with especially when I love it so much and it’s my main source of income. But I’m just glad to be back in a position where we’re talking about football. We’re moving towards playing football and that’s great.”taylor.allen@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @TaylorAllen31

Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen
Reporter

Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.

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