WITH two recent severe injuries to his leg - one of them cut his 2012 season short - and the emergence of excellent rookie guard Kirby Fabien this year, it seemed like North Vancouver native and the BC Lions' very own Dean Valli was destined to be a back-up player in 2013.
But on July 30 Fabien suffered a horrendous knee injury, forcing the team to cut him out of the line-up, and the team didn't know who could fill the void.
With the staff looking for answers Valli was determined to step up and not let his team falter, especially in their moment of need.
But did he feel up to the task? "It's like riding a bike - you never forget how to play," Valli said.
And play he did. Valli's first game back on Aug. 5 against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers was his time to shine. The close game saw Valli help push the team to a 27-20 victory.
Even the Lions' staff were impressed, offensive line coach Dan Dorazio telling the Vancouver Sun he thought Valli was looking and playing better than before he was injured.
When asked if he felt that was fair to say, Valli stayed humble.
"Definitely last year it was tough," he said. "The knee was kind of pooped from the get-go and I struggled at the time, but I persevered. I feel better now, the body feels better."
For the first time since he underwent major knee surgery in the off-season Valli has been put back in as the starting right guard, which BClions.com staff heralded as a "chance to reclaim his career."
But to Valli it's just another day at the job. "I don't think it's that dramatic," he said laughing. "The media is always going to say what they're going to say."
It's also nothing new to Valli, as he broke his leg in 2010 and came back in 2011 as starting right guard helping the Lions win the Grey Cup against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers that year.
Now with one win already under his belt since his return, he feels ready for their next home game Saturday, Aug. 17 against Calgary. In fact, he's looking forward to the chance to come at the team that trumped them last year.
"Calgary is a historic rivalry to say the least," he said. "Obviously they beat us (to get to) last year's Grey Cup and we had a game that was not pretty against them at the beginning of the season.
"Any game against them is always huge, so there'll be something we have to prove there too," he said.
While the coaches might be impressed with Valli's performance, he always kept himself busy and working, making sure he was ready to play at the CFL's level if they needed him to.
"I'm a professional you know, and I knew coming out of the surgery I wasn't going to be ready at the beginning of the season," he said. "I just wanted to be a good teammate and help (Fabien) out any way I could. Now this is a job I know I can do."
Valli says he's not the most naturally blessed athlete, but his strong work ethic and the ability - and yes, it's an ability - to listen and take direction has him feeling in top shape.
"I'm not the fastest or the strongest guy, but I take coaching pretty well," he said. "Football is a technical game and I'm a technical guy. Coaches tell me what they want, where they want me, and I do it."
Valli is happy to have returned to the line-up as he always thought he would. The Lions were scheduled to host the Calgary Stampeders on Saturday, Aug. 17 at BC Place starting at 6 p.m. They'll be right back at it this week for a Thursday game in Montreal starting at 4:30 p.m.
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