Offensive guard anxious to play in Western Final after battling injury

Associated Press

VANCOUVER - Jesse Newman will get a chance to make up for lost time in the Western Final.

Meanwhile, he and Jon Hameister-Ries will be wondering how much time they have left in the CFL.

Newman, who missed the first 13 games of the regular season with a knee injury, is expected to start at right guard for the B.C. Lions as they host the Calgary Stampeders on Sunday. Fellow offensive guard Hameister-Ries, battling knee and back issues, ruled himself out.

"That's a good way to explain it, making up for lost time, for sure," said Newman after taking first-team reps for the second straight day in practice Friday at B.C. Place Stadium.

"It means everything to me. I'm getting butterflies and that (chill) that runs up your spine. It's such a great feeling. It lets you know you're alive. It lets you know you're competing still, and I'm just excited to play."

The winner of Sunday's contest will advance to the 100th Grey Cup in Toronto the following weekend. Barring an unexpected change of plans Newman, a 30-year-old Vancouver native, will replace Dean Valli, who is dealing with a knee problem that has bothered him since the first week of training camp. Valli had a setback in practice Thursday, and it is questionable whether he will dress for the game.

Newman and Valli were both hurt around the same time. But Newman wound up being placed on the nine-game injured reserve list and remained there an additional four games, after undergoing surgery for the third time to repair miniscus on the same knee.

"There's not much left as far as miniscus goes," said Newman.

He has played in just five games this season. Despite his lack of playing time, Newman, who was disappointed with his performance against Calgary in a 41-21 loss to the Stamps in late October, when B.C. allowed eight sacks, feels ready for his big assignment.

"I'm no rookie in there," said Newman. "As far as being bewildered by stunts and movement and stuff like that, I don't think that'll be a problem."

In some respects, he is also on borrowed time. The five-year veteran, who is in his third season with the Lions after being acquired from the Stampeders for a pair of draft picks in 2010, is pondering retirement in wake of his health woes.

Lions coach Mike Benevides said Newman is using the playoffs as extra motivation because he knows that his future in the game is uncertain. Benevides noted that Newman was angry with his performance in his last outing and volunteered to have a heart-to-heart talk with the coach a day afterward.

"These are the games that you live for, and he knows exactly what's at stake for the football team," said Benevides. "But he also knows for himself that this a tremendous opportunity, and you never know how many more you have. I know that he's very motivated."

While Newman was excited at the chance to play, Hameister-Ries practised knowing he will watch the game from the sidelines.

"It sucks," said Hameister-Ries, a six-year CFL veteran who has spent his entire career with the Lions. "This is a huge game. I've worked hard all year, and this is what you want to play in. It's disappointing, but we've got a group of great guys out there, and we're going to get the job done."

Hameister-Ries has missed the past six games, but attempted to come back for Sunday's pivotal contest. During practice, he wore a brace that covered his entire leg and limited his movement.

"I'm just trying to get back," said Hameister-Ries. "It's a little nerve thing in my leg, so I'm just trying to work through it. It's just going to recover with time and with rehab and just going out here and doing the movements that I would normally do. Every day is another day (of progress.) It's not there yet."

The nerve problems resulted from his back woes. Hameister-Ries, a 28-year-old Edmonton native who also suffered a knee injury early in training camp and underwent surgery, has been plagued by injuries throughout his career.

He hopes to get a shot at playing in the Grey Cup and suiting up again next year.

"I want to play," he said. "I've put so much into this, and this is the thing that I want to be doing. It's just, my body is kind of letting me down. I'm not saying I'm going to retire or anything, but it's gonna be one of those things where I might get surgery and then rehab and see where I'm at with the team, with my body and with what my possibilities are."

Fellow offensive lineman Ben Archibald said Hameister-Ries is a source of inspiration to the offensive line and the rest of the team. Archibald praised the University of Tulsa product for his positive attitude. While the guard could easily be downtrodden, sarcastic or negative, he has remained upbeat.

"He wants to be part of the team. We want him to be part of us," said Archibald. "Whether he's at 100 per cent or 70 per cent or whatever, we love him the same. I don't know what else to say about him. He's just the type of teammate that you want to have."

"When you take a look at how tough he is, and he's still hopeful that he could play this year, he's a tough soldier," added Benevides.

Archibald expressed hope that Hameister-Ries will not have health problems beyond his playing career.

"When your body's not working, it's hard to play — and impossible to play sometimes," said Archibald. "So I hope for him all the best in his career, but beyond that, just in his life, being able, that everything functions and he can be healthy on a long-term basis."

Archibald said the Lions will miss the courageous guard on Sunday. But both Archibald and Benevides said the offensive line will just battle through injuries on the offensive line as they have all season.

According to Archibald, the team is feeling prepared and right where it wants to be after getting plenty of rest during their bye week after finishing first in the West.

"That's all you can hope for," he said. "The rest will be decided on Sunday."

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