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Lions' Hunter becomes protector

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VANCOUVER -- His first name is Hunter, but he protects the hunted.

The B.C. Lions are hoping rookie offensive lineman Hunter Steward, slated to make his first CFL start, will be up to the task today as they seek revenge for a loss earlier this season against the Montreal Alouettes. Steward, a 22-year-old Victoria, B.C., native, has taken the field for only three snaps this season, but the Lions are counting on him to help shore up their rotating left tackle spot and provide key pass protection and run-blocking.

The Lions (1-2) could not handle Montreal's constantly stunting defence in a one-sided July 4 loss as the Alouettes (1-2) earned their only win this season.

"It means a lot to me (to start)," said Steward, who played collegiately at Liberty in the U.S. "I've wanted to play professional football for a long time. It wasn't football for my whole life, because I've played many other sports. But I've wanted to be a professional football player for many years now. It's come to fruition now and it's exciting."

But the Lions' hunt for a permanent replacement for retired former all-star left tackle Ben Archibald has been less than thrilling -- largely due to injuries, including one suffered by Steward early in training camp. Steward, drafted sixth overall by the Lions in 2013, will become B.C's third starting left tackle in four games.

He faces a difficult test to perform well and stay healthy, because his backup, Jemarcus Hardrick, only joined the team recently. Ryan Cave, brought in as an emergency replacement, was released earlier this week after starting the past two games.

Standing 6-7 and weighing 320 pounds, Steward provides plenty of brawn, but his body has proved brittle at times. He has battled his way to a starting role after suffering a sprained knee ligament in training camp and undergoing surgery to repair a torn shoulder labrum in the off-season.

He said the shoulder, which required just one internal stitch, is fully healthy again, and his knee has almost reached that point. As a result, it won't be "a stretch" to step into the starting role after playing only in short-yardage situations in last weekend's win over Saskatchewan.

"It is only three (plays), but even just getting in there once gives you a sense of the speed (of the game)," he said.

Steward and the rest of the offensive line will try to help quarterback Kevin Glenn get passes off quickly after he was intercepted twice and constantly pressured in the last meeting with the Als. Montreal held B.C. to 70 net yards in the first half of that contest and did not surrender a touchdown until the final minute.

"They beat us last time, so that's added motivation," said Glenn. "You don't usually get a chance to play a team (again) this quick unless it's like the Labour Day challenges -- especially a team that actually beat you... Call it revenge."

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 19, 2014 C2

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