Keon Lyn is easy to root for, a persevering journeyman pursuing his big break, although he may cringe at the terminology.
In fact, any more big breaks and he may just snap.
The 27-year-old defensive back from Miami joined the B.C. Lions in 2018, one year removed from a broken left femur, suffered while playing for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and five years removed from a fractured left kneecap, an injury sustained in his senior year at Syracuse.
“This is a very big year for me — very, very, very big year,” Lyn said at B.C. Lions’ training camp in Kamloops on Wednesday.
The season is of three-very magnitude because his contract expires after the 2019 campaign and failure to catch on in the CFL would likely mark the end.
Lyn, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 205 pounds, made stops with the Indianapolis Colts, the Arena Football League’s Jacksonville Sharks (twice), New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Ti-Cats before the Lions took a chance on him in 2018.
“I don’t want to say he’s in a dogfight to stay on the roster because everybody is,” Lions’ defensive back coach Ryan Phillips said.
“There is a new guy at the helm [head coach DeVone Claybrooks]. He’s not showing any favourtism to anybody.”
T.J. Lee is among few returning surefire starters on a team that has been overhauled. The sixth-year halfback from Seattle may provide inspiration for Lyn.
A ruptured Achilles in 2016 sidelined Lee, who had locked down a starting position after racking up 79 tackles, three sacks and four interceptions in a breakout 2015 campaign.
“You’re so secluded when you’re injured,” Lee said. “You don’t have the life of a normal football player. That’s when you turn on the grind and you gain mental strength from that in your training. You learn how to push yourself.”
Lee returned to action and backed up a solid 2017 season by earning West Division All-Star status in 2018.
Asked to describe the play, the seconds during which his femur snapped late in the third quarter of a game between his Tiger-Cats and the Edmonton Eskimos in Hamilton on July 20, 2017, Lyn grimaced before uttering a few words.
“I wouldn’t wish that on anyone,” Lee said.
The Esks, led by quarterback Mike Reilly, scored 18 points in the fourth quarter, targeting the side of the field left vulnerable in Lyn’s absence, according to a story in the Hamilton Spectator, en route to a 31-28 victory in Week 4.
That freak incident, as Lyn calls it, occurred when the hard-done-by cornerback was playing the best football of his life, fully recovered from the kneecap fracture and finally starting in the CFL after four nomadic years.
“Hamilton gave the impression they wanted me back, even after the injury,” said Lyn, who began the rehab process after surgery that July. “With that mindset, I’m like, ‘OK, I’m going to heal up, work hard. This team wants me. I know I can make plays in this league.
“They ended up letting me go before I get back to Hamilton. If they don’t want me back, what are the chances of another team wanting me coming off a severe injury? A lot of thoughts go through your head.”
Retirement crossed his mind, but Lions’ director of player personnel Torey Hunter and former Lions’ defensive lineman Shawn Lemon were among those who vouched for Lyn.
He joined the Leos, continued rehab work and played in one game last season, performing well on special teams against the hometown Saskatchewan Roughriders in a Week 20 matchup.
“I honestly thought I was done playing football,” Lyn said. “I made the best of that opportunity, but it’s not me, it’s god. I’m very thankful.”
GM Ed Hervey, defensive co-ordinator Rich Stubler, Claybrooks and Phillips will be wary of a player who has played in as many CFL games as he’s had leg surgeries — three.
“We’re seeing how well he gels within the defence,” Hervey said. “We believe in giving guys opportunities.”
Added Phillips: “The first thing you worry about is when they go into contact is if they start favouring it. Camp is long and if it flares up, you take that into consideration. He hasn’t had any issues. He’s been practising at a good level.”
They must know about his heart and determination. And he wants to show them he’s multifaceted, able to play boundary corner and the SAM position, capable of covering slot receivers and stopping the run.
“I don’t know if they know how versatile I am,” Lyn said. “I think they do. It’s new coaches. They invested in a couple players who will play. A couple of the DBs, the veterans. It’s football. It’s a business.
“I play for the B.C. Lions right now, but you’re kind of playing for all nine teams at this point. You make the best of your opportunities here and let the chips fall wherever they fall.”
Lyn’s next opportunity to shine is on Sunday in exhibition action against the hometown Eskimos, but that’s not breaking news to him.
He might not have many more chances to shatter expectations.
“I’ve come a long way. My story is crazy, but I’m not the only one,” Lyn said. “If you want something in life, it will come if you grind hard for it.”