When Adam Bighill used to dream about playing professional football one day, he would imagine scoring a touchdown, winning a championship and playing alongside some of the best athletes in the sport. Now, the Montesano native has not just scored a touchdown and won a championship, but he’s been embraced by adoring fans and become one of the stars of the Canadian Football League with the BC Lions.
“I just wanted to play football and I never thought about all of these other things that I would have a chance to be a part of and do,” Bighill said. “My picture is blown up on the building. All the people are running around with my jersey on. It’s quite cool.”
Bighill, a 2007 graduate of Montesano High School, hasn’t just become one of the starting linebackers for the Lions, he has been named to the CFL all-star team the past two seasons. In 2012, Bighill had the second most tackles in the CFL with 104 in just his second year in the league. Last season, the former Bulldog standout led the Lions with 92 tackles and led the CFL with four forced fumbles.
With all of the success up north, Bighill could let it change him, but he hasn’t. He is still the same kid who grew up just wanting to play the game. He is just Adam Bighill from Montesano.
Bighill’s football career began long before he ever slipped on a black and orange jersey in British Columbia. At the age of seven, Bighill started playing in the Pop Warner league in Montesano and he was hooked on the game.
When he started playing for Montesano High School, Bighill showed promise as a freshman. He started the season on the freshman team, but by the end of the season he had earned playing time with the varsity. Bighill would stand in against seniors during drills and never back down. He started on both sides of the ball as a sophomore and he was voted as one of the team captains as a junior, a very rare feat.
“He was a great role model,” Montesano High School football coach Terry Jensen said. “Just a coach’s dream as far as work ethic and teammate. He went from 160 pounds as a freshman to 210 pounds as a senior. He was a workout warrior. If he had extra time, he was in there after school.”
Even with standout performances on the field and school-record lifts in the weight room during his senior season, Bighill was overlooked by Division I schools like Washington and Washington State because he was 5-10 and 210 pounds, undersized for the prototypical linebacker. Instead, Bighill went to Central Washington University and set out to prove the scouts wrong.
In his first season with the Wildcats, Bighill became a starter and, over the next four seasons, he would have more than 300 tackles with more than 40 of them being for a loss. He was even selected as a Division II first-team All-American by the American Football Coaches Association in 2010.
In 2011, Bighill once again would have to overcome the odds. Undrafted by any of the National Football League teams, Bighill had a chance to sign on as one of the many free agents that are brought in to fill out the NFL rosters during training camp, but a lockout that stretched into the start of training camps left many people unsure about when NFL training camps would begin and Bighill was unsure how much of a chance he would have to show his talent to an NFL team when camps began. Instead of looking to play for the Seattle Seahawks of the NFL, Bighill turned his attention to the second closest professional sports team to Montesano, the BC Lions.
Based in Vancouver, British Columbia, the Lions are one of the nine teams of the CFL. While the equipment and game play is similar to its American counterpart, the CFL has many subtle differences such as the field being 110-yards long instead of 100 and the end zones being 25 yards deep instead of 10, teams only get three downs to gain 10 yards instead of four and the referees flags are orange instead of yellow. The major difference for Bighill was the fact that the four players who are not set on the line of scrimmage can be moving backward, forward or even running toward the line at the time the ball is snapped. In American football, all of the players have to be set at the time the ball is snapped.
“There is so much that can change in a play based on what these receivers are doing,” Bighill said. “There is so much more chaos that is going on and you are still trying to be organized as a defense. You have to be able to change and adapt on the fly when these receivers are giving you a different look.”
Bighill fought his way on to the roster for the first game of the Lion’s 2011 season, but he played mostly special teams. After the first game of the 2011 season, Bighill was put on the practice roster and didn’t get back on the active roster until week nine. He had a front row seat to watch as the team that had lost the first five games of the season battled to win the CFL Champiohship game, the Grey Cup.
“I learned a lot from that season and, once you win the championship, it makes you hungrier to always be there because you want that feeling,” Bighill said. “You want that feeling again. It gave me a lot of insight into what we need to do as a team and what I need to do as a player to win that championship.”
Although he has had all-star seasons personally, the Lions have missed making it back to the Grey Cup the past two years. Bighill’s hunger to get back to a championship shows in his play. He has adopted what he calls a “savage” mentality that he uses in every workout, practice and game and he even signs off most of his social media posts with #savage.
“The mentality that nothing can stop you, you can do whatever you want if you put your will to it,” Bighill said. “It is just a way of thinking and a way of executing. If I’m training, I’m always trying to outwork everybody and try to do things that they can’t do and aren’t doing, be willing to do more than they do. It has really become a mentality about how I approach things.”
He may be a savage on the field. But, off the gridiron, Bighill tries to be a role model for his fans. In 2012, after wearing No. 50 for his rookie season, Bighill switched to No. 44, which had been his number at CWU and also made him eligible to catch passes on special teams plays. Remembering what it was like to be a fan and have a player switch numbers after buying a jersey, Bighill felt bad about the switch and so he did something unthinkable for a professional athlete. He offered to buy a No. 44 jersey for anyone who had purchased his No. 50. There may not have been too many busting down the doors to buy the jersey of a predominately special teams player, but Bighill wanted to do the right thing.
The Lions are 3-3 and in last place in the West Division this season, but they have won three of their last four games. For Bighill, his best game came in a week two loss to Montreal when he had 10 tackles. He is currently tied for the second most tackles in the CFL with 28.
The preparation for this season began almost as soon as the 2013 season ended.
“Off-season training, for me, is just as much fun as playing football,” Bighill said. “I love training and making my body perform better to be the best football player I can be.”
Bighill does several different styles of workouts to improve his body from one season to the next. He begins with hot yoga before transitioning into doing body building training with a high number of repetitions before taking to the field for agility and running then capping it off with explosive power movements in the gym with heavy weights.
“Whatever I did last time, I have to do more this time because that is the only way I’m going to get better,” Bighill said. “I have to push my body to a new level every single time.”
No matter how big his muscles get or how big of a star he becomes, Bighill is always aware of his small beginnings.
“I tell everybody, ‘Yeah, I’m from a small town, one stop light,’ and give my story,” Bighill said. “I’m definitely proud to be from Montesano.”
Bighill has achieved an almost mythical status in the Montesano High School football program with his picture on the wall of the weight room and coaches often using him as an example to inspire others, but for Bighill it is all about giving back so that others cans someday have the same opportunity as him.
“He is definitely an inspiration and a motivation for our kids,” Jensen said. “He’s an inspiration to anybody that has aspirations of playing at a professional level and an inspiration to anybody that has been told you can’t do something, because he is living proof that you can do anything.”
When the Montesano High School football team won the state championship in 2012, Bighill was on the sidelines for almost every minute of the postseason. He made inspirational speeches, but he didn’t stop at just a few words. Before the championship game against Royal City, Bighill asked Jensen for some film of Montesano’s opponent. The former Bulldog broke down the film and sent Jensen his notes.
“He has a great football mind and he can see things quickly,” Jensen said. “We put in a play during the championship on some of the information he gave us. There is not one thing you can say that would be negative about Adam as far as his influence in Montesano,” Jensen said.
Last year, Bighill returned to the sidelines as the Bulldogs lost a 28-21 squeaker against top-ranked Cascade Christian in the opening round of the state 1A playoffs in Sumner. Bighill spoke to the team about how they still had their whole lives ahead of them and told them never to give up.
“He is as pure of a role model as you would ever want for our student body and our football players,” Jensen said. “It is just awesome to have somebody like that out there. There are so many negative things in professional sports and what athletes have done wrong and here is somebody who always seems to do the right thing. He doesn’t ‘big time’ anybody. He is always talking about stuff he can do to give back to the program. He is still the hungry and humble Adam Bighill.”
After being selected as the defensive player of the week twice, being named as defensive player of the month of September and making the fifth most tackles in the CFL last season, there were some rumors that Bighill could be headed south to the NFL. The chatter on social media stayed as rumor as Bighill is still under contract with the Lions for all of the 2014 season and would not be able to join an NFL team until after this season. Whether or not he joins an NFL team in the future, right now Bighill is happy to keep overcoming the odds in Canada.
“It is not like the be all end all that I have to go to the NFL, things are great right now for the BC Lions,” Bighill said. “My face is on the side of the building. I’ve become a part of the community up here. I’ve built a lot of relationships up here and I’m the starting linebacker. So many people would have bet against me to do what I’ve done and it is just special to me knowing where I’ve came from and how hard I’ve worked is paying off and it shows others that if you really want something you can go and get it if you put the work in. It has been an exciting experience, so far.”