Valerie Lavia is wearing Jevon Cottoy’s jersey in her WhatsApp profile picture.
That’s her son, who plays for the B.C. Lions — and she’s damn proud of him.
Cottoy, a native of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, moved to Canada about 12 years ago to live with his father, Elroy, in Calgary, a gut-wrenching decision made after about a year’s worth of discussion with Valerie.
“I didn’t really have much growing up,” said Cottoy, who spoke to KTW last week after a training camp session at Hillside Stadium.
“Some would say I came from nothing, but I don’t really look at it that way. I come from a hard-working family.
“I was hesitant, but I hadn’t seen my dad in like nine years. I was so anxious to just see him. I didn’t really have that father figure in my life.
“My mom is still in the Caribbean with my little sister (Brianna). I’m trying really hard to work as much as I can to help her and provide a better life for her.”
Lions’ star receiver Bryan Burnham said the rookie is pushing toward cracking a spot on the active roster, inching his way into a starting position that would make him a ratio-breaking Canadian, but Cottoy is very much a work in progress.
“We worked with him in Surrey before camp and you could see he was a great athlete, but just a little bit raw, not necessarily a football player, but a great athlete,” Burnham said. “This past week, he’s come a long way, to the point where he is getting first-team reps and potentially going to be a starter on this football team.”
Cottoy didn’t know a thing about football (or what it feels like to be truly freezing) until he moved to Cow Town. He picked up the pigskin at age 13 and caught on in a hurry, eventually landing with head coach Matt (Snoop) Blokker and the Calgary Colts of the Prairie Football Conference, which belongs to the Canadian Junior Football League.
The standout athlete was recruited to play for the Calgary Dinos in the U Sports ranks in 2016, but a knee injury (torn ACL and MCL) and two surgeries put his career on ice.
Family and friends helped convince Cottoy to give the game one more chance. When Blokker took a job with the Langley Rams of the B.C. Football Conference, the receiver left his dad in Calgary and moved to the Fraser Valley.
“I came over here to Canada, enjoyed it and my dad, at the time, was with my ex-step mom and we were living together,” Cottoy said. “My dad got divorced. It was just me and my dad for a couple years. That kind of helped me grow as a man. The second half of my life prepared me for football.”
Cottoy had an otherworldly post-season to cap an incredible 2018 campaign that saw Langley reach the CJFL final, in which the perennial powerhouse Saskatoon Hilltops culled the Rams 58-21.
Receiving numbers from four playoff games — 25 receptions for 645 yards and eight touchdowns — were augmented by three rushing touchdowns.
And did we mention he punts?
Cottoy led the BCFC in punting in the 2018 playoffs, hoofing it 18 times for 664 yards, an average of 36.9 yards per kick.
The Lions in December signed the 22-year-old, 6-foot-5, 230-pound receiver to a two-year contract.
“He has it all — size, speed, athletics, high football IQ — but the thing that separates Jevon from a lot of guys is his work ethic and his commitment to his craft,” said Howie Zaron, who coached the Rams last season.
“I thought last year when he first came out to junior that he would make the Lions. I’m not sure the B.C. Lions thought that. They were unaware of what Jevon could do.
“I think now the Lions have gone from, ‘Hey, listen, let’s develop this young Canadian kid,’ to, ‘Hey, this young Canadian kid is going to step in and contribute right away.’”
The Rams moved Cottoy around last year, using him at wide receiver, in the slot, at running back, in wildcat formations and, yes, at punter.
That dexterity is proving beneficial in Cottoy’s pursuit of a starting job with the Leos.
He has been used in the R slot position, which is a sort of hybrid of the slot, wide-receiver and tight-end positions.
“Guys like that don’t grow on trees, with a catch radius that size and who run that well, but then are able to slide into the box and pick up a blitz. He has a unique skillset,” Lions’ receivers’ coach Markus Howell said.
“With a Canadian passport and that size and speed, we like the way he’s projecting. We want Canadians on the roster who can potentially start. Those guys are called ratio-breakers.”
Howell also smiled and nodded when told what Burnham said about Cottoy.
“Raw? Exactly. He’s a blank canvas,” Howell said. “Great kid. Pulls me aside. Doesn’t interrupt when you’re talking. Will show up to meetings with a gang of notes and a gang of questions.
“I’ve got to meet with him after this practise because there was a concept he’s not quite getting the grasp of. You want that kid on your squad.”
Howell, general manager Ed Hervey and head coach DeVone Claybrooks will be keeping an eye on Cottoy when the Lions play host to the Calgary Stampeders at BC Place Stadium on Friday, with kickoff slated for 7 p.m.
“We wait until the lights come on,” Howell said. “The stakes are higher.”
The Caribbean Canadian, anxious to make an impression in his professional debut, dropped the first pass that came his way in the Lions’ pre-season opener against the hometown Edmonton Eskimos on May 26, but rebounded with three straight snags to lead the team with 45 receiving yards.
Word travelled quickly to mom in Prospect, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“Me and her talk every other day,” Cottoy said. “Facetime, WhatsApp video … I’m always sending her pictures of my games.
“I’d love to move her here, but my mom always complains about how cold it is. I’m thinking this is the warmest place in Canada. Hopefully, she changes her mind.”
Burnham is warming up to the idea of Cottoy becoming a permanent resident with the Lions’ starting offence.
“Just look at the guy,” Burnham said. “He’s a physical specimen. You don’t really see that a lot, whether American or Canadian. He definitely has a chance and he’s in the right mindset. He has a real shot at being a big part of our offence, but he’s still learning and there’s a long way to go.”