NEWS
11/01/2011 07:00 EDT | Updated 01/01/2012 05:12 EST

Slotback Arland Bruce unites Lions in dressing room, brings talent to the field

SURREY, B.C. - The B.C. Lions coaching staff had just finished giving out the team's weekly awards on Tuesday when slotback Arland Bruce got up to say something.

Bruce began dispensing his own awards.

Backup quarterback Mike Reilly was given a CD for keeping the team loose on the sidelines. Bruce improved centre Angus Reid's street cred by handing him a video of rap music. Reserve linebacker Amara Kamara was tossed a T-shirt for showing up for a meeting even though one hadn't been called.

It was a light-hearted moment at a time during the CFL season when there's a lot of pressure. It also showed how Bruce has added something more to the Lions than his ability to make big catches.

"I don't think we can understate how much he's helped," said quarterback Travis Lulay.

"He's made an immediate impact. I could tell from the first week he was here that he was going to be a big help."

The Lions were 0-5 when they obtained Bruce from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in an Aug. 3 trade for a third-round draft pick in 2012 and an additional conditional selection.

In the 11 games Bruce has played for B.C. the Lions are 9-2. If the Lions (10-7) beat the Montreal Alouettes (10-7) at B.C. Place Saturday night they will finish first in the CFL West and host the West final.

Is it just a coincidence B.C.'s turnaround started around the time Bruce arrived? Slotback Geroy Simon doesn't think so.

"He opened up a lot of things for our offence," said Simon. "That's one more weapon teams have to worry about."

When Bruce got to Vancouver he saw a team of talented pieces that needed someone to help glue them together.

"I believe I am in this game for a reason, to help teams win or help teams contend," the 34-year-old Kansas City native said after the Lions practised on a cool fall day. "I'm not going to stop believing that.

"So I did think there was a possibility for us to turn it around. The West was wide open. We are where we are supposed to be at."

As a Lion Bruce has 44 catches for 698 yards and eight touchdowns. Many of his grabs have been game changers.

His 14-yard touchdown catch against the Edmonton Eskimos last weekend was a turning point in the Lions' 29-20 victory that kept their first-place hopes alive.

A 53-yard field goal by Paul McCallum, which beat the Calgary Stampeders on the last play of an Oct. 8 game, was set up by Bruce catching a 17-yard pass on a third-and-10 with time running out on the clock.

The Lions were scrimmaging in the shadow of their own goal posts back on Sept. 24 against Saskatchewan when Bruce combined with Lulay for a 100-yard pass-and-run touchdown that helped break the Riders' backs.

In only his second game as a Lion Bruce had nine catches for 129 yards and two touchdowns against Edmonton.

Over the season Bruce has watched the Lions come together in the dressing room and mould on the field.

"You have a group of scattered guys that have been to different places, who have been on the roster, off the roster," Bruce said.

"I said I am going to take advantage of this opportunity to bring these guys together, just lead by example. Leading by example brings a player's game up a notch."

Lulay said Bruce's worth ethic didn't go unnoticed by the other players.

"There was the confidence he brought to us on offence, his professionalism in getting up to speed so quick with what we are doing," said Lulay. "He asked a lot of question, did the extra work he needed to do."

Adding Bruce opened up room on the field for Simon.

"To have another guy that can be a No. 1 receiver, it's not always on my shoulders," said Simon, who has 79 catches for 1,243 yards and eight touchdowns. "It doesn't matter who is catching the ball.

"He's one of the best in the league. He's helped us tons."

One person not surprised about what Bruce has added is Wally Buono, the Lions coach and general manager.

Buono saw the impact Bruce had on teams in Winnipeg, Toronto and Hamilton.

"When you look at the pattern, it's not inconsistent," Buono said. "He comes up with big plays.

"He's also a guy that has helped balance our offence, given us a little bit more stability and gave the quarterback a little bit more confidence."

The Tiger-Cats have struggled to 8-9 record this year and will finish third in the East.

"I really don't even think about it much," said Bruce. "It doesn't cross my mind.

"I'm on a team now I am committed to."

As for facing Montreal on Saturday, Bruce isn't intimidated by the Alouettes winning back-to-back Grey Cups.

"They have a great history, but we are not playing against their franchise," he said.

"Of course they have had two championships. With respect to them, but we are at home. We have to defend our turf. We have to go out and play our game and be a Lion out there."