KAMLOOPS, B.C. — Brendan Bigelow says it was a bit like going back in time.
Five years after committing to play for Jeff Tedford at the University of California, his old head coach was again trying to convince the running back to get on board.
This time, however, the team was in a different country and part of a league Bigelow knew almost nothing about.
“He sort of recruited me,” 22-year-old said with a smile this week while sporting a Cal T-shirt after practice at B.C. Lions’ training camp. “It kind of reminded me of high school.”
Bigelow, who also tried out for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season when Tedford was the team’s offensive co-ordinator, said he looked up CFL highlights online and realized his speed would be an asset on the wider field. After that it was an easy decision to join up with one of his mentors once again.
“He already knew my skillset, he knew how I am, he knew I worked hard,” said the five-foot-ten 180-pound native of Fresno, Calif. “It brought me back to those good times.
“I probably would not be here if it wasn’t for Jeff Tedford.”
Bigelow is just one of a number of connections to the Golden Bears that Tedford has brought to B.C. ahead of his first season with the Lions. The other Cal products at Thompson Rivers University are receivers Cam Morrah and Lavelle Hawkins, who had the misfortune of breaking his arm the first day of camp, while offensive co-ordinator George Cortez spent four seasons with Tedford at Cal from 2002 to 2005.
A former NFL tight end, Morrah played for Tedford between 2005 and 2008 and said reuniting with his old coach is the reason he decided to give football in Canada a try.
“I never watched it at all,” said the 28-year-old from Ponoma, Calif. “I pretty much said I’d never (play in the CFL), especially being a tight end in the NFL … but it’s another opportunity to have fun. That’s how I’m looking at it — a way to have fun and just be around the sport a little longer.
“If (Tedford) didn’t get the job here it definitely wouldn’t have happened.”
Morrah has a six-foot-three 240-pound frame and can move well for a big man, a combination the Lions are hoping will cause problems for opposing defences.
“He’s a big, tight end/receiver type guy that has been trained to play at the line of scrimmage,” said Tedford. “He’s also gifted enough and has enough range and speed to get down the field and create mismatches in the secondary.”
Bigelow, meanwhile, is a versatile talent on offence who also brought back 62 kicks for 1,363 yards during his career at Cal, including an 81-yard return for a touchdown against Ohio State in 2012.
“He has really electric speed and makes people miss and has great big-play potential,” said Tedford. “He can run routes like receivers, he can catch the ball, but he’s also good out of the backfield.”
Coming to a new league with new rules is difficult enough, but familiarity with Tedford is making the transition a bit easier for Bigelow and Morrah.
“It’s great. I appreciate coach and everything he’s done,” said Bigelow. “I’ve just got to keep growing and learning.”
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press