Not being able to play football for over a year helped Lemar Durant put the game back into perspective.
“Once you’re playing for so long, not that you don’t enjoy football, but it becomes almost like a job for you,” said the BC Lions wide receiver. “Once I was out of it for a bit you realize how much you actually miss it and enjoy playing it.
“At the same time, you realize it’s not going to last forever, so you’ve got to start thinking of things that you’re going to do after football.”
After enjoying a breakout 2019 season Durant was excited about what 2020 would bring. Then came the harsh reality of the CFL season being cancelled due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Honestly it was pretty tough at the start,” he said. “You didn’t expect it at all.
“What I kept trying to remind myself was there’s a lot of other people going through this and there’s a lot of other people in a worse situation than I am. I just tried to stay positive that way.”
The 28-year-old Coquitlam, B.C., native secured his short term future earlier this month when he signed a one-year extension that will keep him with the Lions through the 2022 season.
“We were just talking about restructuring the deal,” said Durant. “I (thought) I might as well get another year. It seemed like they wanted me to be here for longer and I wanted to be here longer.
“It just worked out for both sides.”
Durant signed as a free agent with BC in February 2019 after spending four years with the Calgary Stampeders. In 15 games as a Lion he turned heads by making 57 catches for 810 yards, five touchdowns and a 14.2-yard average, all career highs.
He was on track for 1,000 yards but his season was cut short after suffering a broken bone in his foot.
Several factors contributed to Durant’s success.
He was happy to be home again on the West Coast. He liked the role he was promised by then general manager Ed Hervey and head coach DeVone Claybrooks.
“They wanted me to be a go-to guy and that’s what I feel like I can do and I’m capable of,” said Durant.
Having quarterback Mike Reilly throwing him passes “never hurts either.”
“I think it was just me getting the opportunity,” he said. “My role overall with the team was bigger.”
Durant’s growth wasn’t limited to the field. He also found his voice in the locker room.
“I kind of had my role when I was younger,” he said. “I wasn’t really a go-to guy. But BC was just me being natural. I feel like I kind of got a spot on that leadership role. I just feel overall my comfort is back.”
While the six-foot-two, 218-pound Durant sizzled in 2019, the Lions fizzled, missing the playoffs with a 5-13 record. That cost Claybrooks his job. In October, Hervey announced he was leaving as GM for personal reasons.
Rick Campbell had already been hired as head coach. He will share the GM duties with Neil McEvoy, who has spent 26 years with the Lions, most recently as player personnel coordinator.
Durant said he’s comfortable with the changes.
“I had a chance to talk to Rick a lot and me and Neil have a good relationship,” he said. “Everything felt good.
“I felt confident that it was going to be good place to play and we’re headed in the right direction.”
Durant has spent the last year going to gyms when possible and doing home workouts when the gyms were closed.
“Just finding ways to be creative and definitely stayed in shape,” he said. “Maybe not the exact game shape I’d be in if I had all the access to the facilities but overall, I think I was doing all right.”
The CFL is hoping to open training camps in early May with the first weekend of games scheduled to begin June 10. Durant said a lot of rust will have to be shaken off physically and mentally.
“If we don’t rush into things, and build it up, that’ll be fine,” he said. “Mentally, just trying to stay locked in and getting back to where you were before.
“It’s weird having this time off. You start to maybe get a little lazy. You’ve got to make sure you stay sharp. But I feel like once training camp comes along, and you’re back with the guys, everything will pick up pretty quick.”
Durant split his college football between the University of Nevada, Reno, and Simon Fraser University. He was selected 18th overall by the Stampeders in the 2015 CFL draft.
In 51 games in Calgary he had 102 catches for 1,280 yards and eight touchdowns. Durant was named the Most Valuable Canadian at the 2018 Grey Cup when he had 51 yards form scrimmage and a touchdown in the Stampeders 27-16 win over Ottawa.
Spending the last year away from football helped Durant focus on the important things of his life.
“The relationships and just getting back in touch with friends and family,” he said. “Realizing that I can’t take little things for granted.
“Just waking up and enjoying the fact I’m here and I actually get to play a sport that I love. I realized I’ve having a good life so far. I thought of all the positive things. That helped me get through it all.”
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