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Lions happy Olafioye met with strange circumstances

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SURREY, B.C. -- Jovan Olafioye was rewarded Wednesday for proving his doubters wrong.

The B.C. Lions offensive tackle was named the West Division's nominee for the CFL's outstanding lineman award after he played all 18 regular-season games -- despite failing a medical exam with the NFL's St. Louis Rams in the off-season.

"It really means a lot," Olafioye said. "Dealing with the irregular circumstances that I did this off-season, one of my goals coming into the season -- besides winning the Grey Cup -- was to be the best offensive lineman in my third year here."

The 25-year-old from Detroit is the West's top-lineman nominee for the second consecutive season. He lost out in 2011 to Montreal's Josh Bourke, who is the East Division's nominee again this year.

Olafioye, who has never missed a game in three CFL seasons, was among a trio of Lions nominated for annual trophies. Defensive end Jabar Westerman was named the West's top rookie, while kick and punt returner Tim Brown took home the division's top special teams honours.

The Lions thought they had lost Olafioye after capturing the 2011 Grey Cup. With several NFL teams showing interest in him, it was considered just a matter of time before he left for greener financial pastures.

It did not take him long to sign with St. Louis, but the Rams unexpectedly let him go in February, and his CFL rights reverted to the Lions.

Olafioye has suffered from an irregular heartbeat and blamed the failed physical on his neglect to take regular medication.

"My dad's a doctor, and he felt really comfortable about the situation I'm in," Olafioye said. "So I didn't really have no bad feelings about just coming back here and playing football."

The product of little known North Carolina Central University helped the Lions record a league-low 30 sacks against. Olafioye was a mainstay on an offensive line that has battled injuries since the first day of training camp in Kamloops, B.C.

"I'm very proud," he said of his accomplishment. "Even though some people might not be able to jump back from a situation like that, I feel like I'm very strong-minded."

Lions head coach Mike Benevides called Olafioye one of the "rocks" of the offensive line along with centre Angus Reid and left tackle Ben Archibald.

Benevides said Olafioye, who played primarily as a defensive lineman before he joined the Lions and tried all offensive-line positions except centre, was the best choice for the honour.

Benevides also heaped heavy praise on Westerman, who excelled after the Lions made a trade with the Edmonton Eskimos to move up and select him second overall in the Canadian college draft.

The 23-year-old from Brampton, Ont., who played at Eastern Michigan, recorded 14 tackles and four sacks for a Lions defence that led the league in 18 of 25 statistical categories. He helped the Lions record a league-leading 47 sacks.

The Lions coveted Westerman after veteran defensive end Brent Johnson's retirement in the off-season created a critical need for a Canadian defensive lineman who could help fill a big hole and help the team balance its import ratio.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 8, 2012 D2

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