It’s a Hall of Fame career that would never have occurred without some persistence by Solomon Elimimian.
On Wednesday, the 2023 Canadian Football Hall of Fame class was named and the former B.C. Lions linebacker was part of a group of inductees that includes former Lions standout cornerback Larry Crawford and current defensive line coach John Bowman, who had a tremendous 14-year career with Montreal.
For Elimimian, it’s a crowning achievement to an exemplary career in a Lions uniform that included a Grey Cup championship in 2011 as well as winning the Most Outstanding Rookie Award in 2010, the Most Outstanding Player Award in 2014 and the Most Outstanding Defensive Player Award in 2014 and 2016.
And it almost never happened.
After finishing his playing career at the University of Hawaii, Elimimian was signed as a free agent by the Buffalo Bills in 2008 but was subsequently cut in the pre-season.
He went back to Los Angeles and was living at home with his family when his brother Abe – currently an assistant coach at Hawaii whom Elimimian lists as his biggest influence – told him about the Lions holding a tryout camp in L.A.
The workout was conducted by then Lions General Manager and Head Coach Wally Buono.
“I don’t think he was too sold on me. He told me you have a little bit here but we might want someone who is little bit faster and a little bit bigger. I just kept bugging him. I told him if you give me the opportunity, you won’t regret it. To this day, he tells me what I told him that day,” recalled Elimimian.
Elimimian’s tenacity led to another workout in Las Vegas and eventually a contract.
“I think it was more like a pity contract so that I would stop bugging them. It was like here’s a contract – come to training camp,” chuckled Elimimian.
As a rookie attending training camp in Kamloops in 2010, Elimimian had a moment that had players and coaches alike take notice.
The team was running what’s called the inside drill – which focuses on the run game between the tackles with no receivers or defensive backs involved. The drill is known for its physicality, and on this day, it was Elimimian who made a loud statement with a takedown of running back Jerome Messam.
Messam was a load at 6’3” and 255 pounds but he was levelled by the much smaller Elimimian, whose listed playing size was 6’0” and 225 pounds.
“I literally picked Jerome up and sent him backwards. In the film session that day, Wally plays the film and says ‘guys I don’t know who this player is but that’s the type of physicality we need.’ That moment put me on the radar so to speak,” noted Elimimian.
Although he was making waves with his play, Elimimian suffered a setback when he was sidelined with a hamstring injury which almost resulted in him being cut.
“Wally comes into the training room – I’m right next to the trainer (Bill Reichelt) but he doesn’t look at me – he says ‘Hey Billy, tell Solomon if he doesn’t play this game, he’s going home.’ Then he walks out of the room. I looked at Billy and said “well I guess I have to play in this game.”
Elimimian played the pre-season game at 50% but showed enough to make the team.
A month into the season, he took over as the starting middle linebacker and never looked back, winning the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie that year.
“It was probably the most important year in my career. It’s one of those moments that you know there’s nothing else for you. I didn’t want to do anything else. The moment that changed my life was when I got up on that stage and won the Rookie of the Year. It felt like a weight had been lifted,” explained Elimimian.
Because of his size, Elimimian always had his doubters – including Buono -but all he asked for was an opportunity.
“You can measure my size, my height, my speed but one thing that you can’t measure is my will. I’ve always said the one thing that sets me apart from any player is my will and determination. You tell me I can’t do something; I’m going to prove you wrong,” said Elimimian.
Ironically enough, it was Buono who called Elimimian last week to let him know he was going into the Hall of Fame.
“The first three or four years, we went at it. We probably didn’t like each other. It was a strange relationship but once I won the Most Outstanding Player Award, it was more of father-son relationship. I really looked up to him,” explained Elimimian.
The phone call from Buono was the culmination of an outstanding career – and a tribute to Elimimian’s resolve.
Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media. And check out his weekly podcast every Monday at Today in B.C. or your local Black Press Media website.