BRITISH COLUMBIA

After biding his time in B.C., Jackson making most of opportunity with Lions

10/29/2014 08:38 EDT | Updated 12/29/2014 05:59 EST
SURREY, B.C. - Mike Benevides was in his inaugural training camp as head coach of the B.C. Lions when Ernest Jackson first arrived on the scene.

"I'll never forget when he came off the bus," Benevides recalled Wednesday of their initial encounter back in 2012. "He came walking into the stadium ... and right away you noticed."

It's taken a while, but so has the rest of the CFL.

After biding his time behind a talented group of receivers for most of the last three seasons, Jackson is finally getting his chance with the injury-ravaged Lions — and running with it.

The 28-year-old from Rochester, N.Y., hauled in 20 passes for a 438 yards and two touchdowns in three October games to be named the league's offensive player of the month on Wednesday, quite a breakout after recording just 31 catches for 379 yards in 2012 and 2013 combined.

"It's a big honour to get recognized for what I've been doing. The opportunity came around and I just took advantage of it," said Jackson. "Like I always tell all the guys who are waiting around saying: 'Oh I want to play.' I was in the same boat with them.

"Every dog gets its day, but when it comes take advantage of it."

While the six-foot-two 220-pound Jackson cuts an imposing figure that always intrigued the Lions, Benevides said that's only part of the reason for his success. Players that aren't getting on the field often become frustrated with their circumstance, but the big receiver took the opposite approach.

"He's just got a demeanour about him that you like. He's a competitor. Nothing gets him down," said the coach. "He's persevered and it's a tremendous credit to him. Right now, I challenge someone to find anyone playing as dominant as he is."

The Lions have had a grocery list of injuries this season, including quarterback Travis Lulay, receiver Courtney Taylor and running backs Andrew Harris and Stefan Logan, just to name a few.

Through it all, B.C. has managed to scrape together a 9-7 record and secure a playoff spot for an 18th straight season, relying heavily on players like Jackson filling key roles.

"His performance is speaking for itself, he's out there making plays, he's grasping the opportunity," said Lions defensive back Ryan Phillips. "His professional approach has always been the best thing and something I don't think he gets credit for. He's waited his turn."

Lions quarterback Kevin Glenn knows a bit about stepping up — he's led the team all but one week in place of Lulay — and said Jackson's performance has been par for the course.

"It's all about opportunity," said the veteran QB. "Earlier in the year he might not have been given enough opportunities because there's only one ball to go around.

"When the guys got injured and he had his turn to step up into that first spot, second spot, he took advantage of it."

Lions receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux just returned from injury last week to witness Jackson's 149-yard performance against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers that included the go-ahead touchdown in a 28-23 road victory.

"It's all about timing" said Arceneaux. "When you're number's down, make the play. It's really no surprise to me at all."

Jackson said he never got frustrated while waiting his turn, likening his time in the background to learning the systems as a young player at the University of Buffalo.

"It was more about staying focused and waiting for the opportunity to come," said Jackson, who has 44 catches for 736 yards this season. "When it comes, just be ready. That was the biggest thing.

"I was always confident in my ability to do things like this. It was more of when is the opportunity going to come around."

Part of the reason for Jackson's success was his move from wide receiver to slotback, which paid almost immediate dividends. In his first full game at a position that allows him to hit the line of scrimmage running, he racked up eight catches for 195 yards and touchdown against the Ottawa Redblacks.

Jackson's also given the Lions a legitimate deep threat, with an impressive 21.9 yards per reception in October as proof.

"In this league you want big plays and I think he's got more big plays than anybody else," said Benevides. "You want to stretch the vertical seam. You want someone who can stretch the field."

The humble Jackson said he expects more focus from defences in the coming weeks with the Lions still in the hunt to host a home playoff game ahead of this weekend's road match against the Edmonton Eskimos, but teams haven't found and answer for him yet.

"Most likely there's going to be a little bit more attention," he said. "But we have a bunch of great receivers on our squad so we can all get the job done regardless of who's getting double-teamed or not."

Phillips, meanwhile, has gone up against Jackson countless times in practice and said he feels for the defenders that have to face him when the snaps count.

"As a DB I don't want to sit up there and jam a six-foot-two 220-pound receiver all game," said Phillips. "That's not fun. It's great to see him have the success that he's having at the right time."

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