Prior to signing with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Solomon Elimimian and Manny Arceneaux had experienced many highs and lows with the B.C. Lions.
However, a constant throughout their long and successful tenures with B.C. was Wally Buono , the unmistakable face of the Lions’ organization, who retired after the 2018 season.
The 2019 season marks the first time since 2003 that Buono hasn’t been the head coach or general manager of the Lions. Elimimian, who spent nine seasons as the Lions’ middle linebacker, and Arceneaux, who was a key part of B.C.’s receiving corps for eight seasons, feel it’s no coincidence that the Lions are struggling this season without Buono in the mix.
“Wally’s the man and you know there is going to be a drop-off because he’s not there,” Elimimian said. “That’s my personal opinion because I played for that man for nine years.
“I know what he brings to an organization and I know how dynamic he is in an organization. You just can’t replace someone like Wally overnight, because he’s imbedded in that organization.”
The 69-year-old Buono retired after 46 seasons in the CFL as a player, assistant coach, head coach, general manager, vice-president of football operations and team president. His career featured stints with the Lions, Montreal Alouettes, Montreal Concordes and Calgary Stampeders.
The Lions, like the Riders, have endured a slow start to the 2019 season under a rookie head coach.
Under field boss DeVone Claybrooks. B.C. carries a 1-4 record into Saturday’s game against the Craig Dickenson-coached Riders (1-3) at Mosaic Stadium.
“You know how it is once you experience change and adjust to change in that being you lost all of your core guys,” Arceneaux said.
“It’s a matter of them finding their real leadership and that’s probably what their locker room is lacking now. It’s a bunch of individuals who are looking after themselves and just playing football and a lot of it shows up on film. Once they have some guys that decide to stand up and say enough is enough, they will get it going.”
B.C. is coming off a 33-6 loss to the visiting Edmonton Eskimos on July 11. The Riders are also coming off a lopsided loss — having fallen 37-10 to the Calgary Stampeders on July 6 — but have had the benefit of a bye week to deal with the defeat.
How the Riders rebound from the Calgary defeat is more on Arceneaux’s mind his former team’s woes.
“It’s about getting our things going because we are a 1-and-3 club,” Arceneaux said. “You can always say you’re better than what your record is, but your record states what you are. It’s all about this locker room playing together and putting some wins together.”
Elimimian and Arceneaux learned about putting wins together during their time with the Lions. They also developed tremendous respect for Buono.
“Wally is the guy,” Elimimian said. “Honestly, I wouldn’t have had a successful career if it wasn’t for Wally. In my first four or five years, I couldn’t stand him, and I say that respectfully because he pushed me so hard. He was never satisfied and I could never do a good job.
“He knew who I was and he knew me as a player and knew how to get the best out of me. I didn’t understand what he was doing until my fifth season, when I realized that he cared about me and he saw something in me. I realized that’s what I needed from him.”
Elimimian became the face of the Lions’ defence, recording 745 tackles over 118 games. In addition to winning the 2011 Grey Cup, Elimimian was named the CFL’s most outstanding defensive player (2014 and 2016) and most outstanding player (2014).
Arceneaux, 31, also flourished under Buono, recording 556 receptions for 8,169 yards and 55 touchdowns. He has surpassed the 1,000-yard mark four times, including a career-high 1,566 in 2016.
“(Buono) had a big impact because he was always straightforward in telling you how it was as a mentor or as a coach,” said Arceneaux, a CFL all-star in 2015 and 2016. “He would keep you on track, not just physically, but mentally and spirituality as well.”
Elimimian and Arceneaux both battled injuries during their final seasons with the Lions. In 2018, Elimimian was limited to four regular-season games due to a broken wrist. Arceneaux missed the second half of the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during a 24-21 loss to the Riders on Aug. 25.
The Riders signed Arceneaux as a free agent even though there was the possibility that he might not be available until September while recovering from the knee injury. Arceneaux, meanwhile, figured he would be available sooner than that.
“I thought that I would be available on Canada Day,” he said. “It so happens that this falls on the same day that we play B.C., which is crazy.”
Dickenson, however, was going to study the video from Thursday’s practice before adding Arceneaux to the active roster.
“He looked pretty good out there,” Dickenson said. “It’s hard to get in shape without games and he needs some games. Whether it’s this week, next week or three weeks from now, we have to get him out there eventually and get him back.”
A calf injury kept Elimimian on the sideline during most of training camp and through the Riders’ first three games. He made his debut in the loss to the Stampeders and appeared rusty.
“Like everything, it’s going to take time to gel,” Elimimian said. “As a player. I’m in a new situation with a new defence and new players so I’m not worried about it at all.
“I feel as a defence that once we reach our peak, people will see great things. We’re just starting. I missed a lot of time during training camp and it will take time for me to gel. My confidence isn’t shaken at all.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019