B.C. Lions' linebacker Williams sets single-season record for tackles by Canadian rookie

BC Lions' Jordan Williams, left, grabs Calgary Stampeders' Ante Milanovic-Litre during second half CFL football action in Calgary, Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

It's been a record-setting rookie season for B.C. Lions middle linebacker Jordan Williams.

The CFL revealed Wednesday the six-foot, 232-pound Williams has registered 81 defensive tackles in 12 games this season. That breaks the Canadian rookie record of 75 set in 1993 by Mike O'Shea, the current head coach of the Grey Cup-champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

That was news to Williams, 26, who had no idea about the achievement when he came to work Wednesday.

"I did not know until Matt (Lions communications director Matt Baker) told me about three minutes ago," Williams said with a chuckle during a telephone interview. "I've spoken with coach O'Shea, he's a great guy."

O'Shea established the mark with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The Ticats obtained O'Shea, a native of North Bay, Ont., from the then Edmonton, which had selected the former Guelph Gryphon in the first round, fourth overall, in the 1993 CFL draft.

B.C. selected Williams first overall in the 2020 CFL draft but he's completing his first season with the Lions as the league didn't play in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to 2021, Williams last played football in 2017, his final year at East Carolina University.

Williams said his goals this season were all team-oriented.

"My goal was to help us get wins and try to get to the Grey Cup," he said. "If we don't (get to playoffs), it will absolutely be a disappointment regardless of what I've done."

B.C. (4-8) hosts the Calgary Stampeders (6-6) on Friday night in a game that's important to both teams.

Calgary can clinch a West Division playoff berth with a win or tie and also eliminate B.C. from post-season contention. The Stampeders have won nine of the last 11 meetings with the Lions.

What's more, Calgary is coming off a bye week and is 14-2 following a week off since 2012.

B.C. has dropped six straight games, including a 39-10 home decision to Calgary on Oct. 16.

The Lions won the first meeting of the season 15-9 at McMahon Stadium on Aug. 12. However, B.C. no longer controls its playoff destiny and must not only win its final two regular-season games, but also get help in order to secure a post-season berth.

B.C. will end its regular season hosting Edmonton (2-9) on Nov. 19.

"We have to win these two games and get a little help," Williams said. "I'm not sure of who needs to win or lose to help us but we're just focused on ourselves these last two games."

Williams credits the Lions' coaching staff with preparing him to make a successful jump into professional football.

"I feel like the middle linebacker position translates well in the CFL in comparison to other positions," Williams said. "Like receivers, they have to learn the waggle and (defensive backs) have to learn how to defend against the waggle.

"At linebacker, you just have to line up and tackle. Now, it's not that simple because you must have some grit about you and must play through injuries because there's a 99 per cent injury rate in this game of football. But they (coaches) prepared me to be a decent linebacker in this league and I just went out there and tried my hardest and try to always run to the ball."

Williams is a native of Fayetteville, N.C., but was deemed a Canadian for the draft because his mother was born in Toronto. Williams initially had a free-agent workout with the Ottawa Redblacks in 2019 before learning of his Canadian eligibility and declaring for the 2020 selection process.

Williams appeared in 45 games over four seasons at East Carolina (2014-17). He recorded 252 total tackles, 23 being for a loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles, one interception and a fumble recovery.

He enters CFL action this week second overall in tackles, two behind Ottawa's Avery Williams (83). He's a very strong candidate for the CFL's outstanding rookie award.

Only two true rookies have led the CFL in tackles. Linebacker George White had 105 tackles in 18 games with Saskatchewan in 2000 before Barrin Simpson set the league rookie record of 115 in 18 games with B.C. the following year.

No Canadian rookie has ever led the CFL in tackles since the league began keeping such statistics in 1987. And, despite his success, Williams said he has room to improve.

"The Canadian game is faster so I can improve on getting the guys lined up better and put into position to make plays," he said. "I think I can also be better being a voice and a vocal leader on the team."

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