SURREY, B.C. — All-star linebacker Solomon Elimimian has spent much of the CFL season watching his teammates on the B.C. Lions' defensive line first struggle then surge.
After notching 26 defensive tackles in the team's first four games, Elimimian was sidelined by a wrist injury in B.C.'s win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on July 14.
"When the team has success without you, you have to put your pride aside," he said.
"I've learned a lot this year."
Now the four-time all star is ready to get back on the field. He expects to be in the starting lineup on Sunday when the Lions (9-9) face off against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (8-10) in the East Division semi final.
B.C. struggled to start the season, going 3-6 in the first half before winning five-of-six in September and October.
A powerful defensive line was key to the turn in fortunes.
It took some time for the coaching staff to figure out what the defence are good at, said Lions head coach Wally Buono.
"When you look at the transformation since then, it's been good, it's been strong, it's been aggressive," he said.
"We've shut down some very good offences and most of the time it's been because we've been able to man cover them."
Despite his injury, Elimimian was able to contribute. The 32-year-old continued showing up to practices and even travelled with the team to away games, taking on a mentorship role with younger players and helping coaching staff wherever possible.
"I'm proud of myself that I was still part of it," he said. "I wasn't on the outside looking in. I was still able to help."
The work also eased the transition back to playing.
"It kept me into it, it kept me engaged," Elimimian said. "We all say we're in this together but it's hard to feel like that when you're not part of things like travelling or helping out."
Having him back will "lift the group," not only because of his physicality, but because of his leadership both on and off the field, said veteran B.C. quarterback Travis Lulay.
Elimimian practised with his teammates this week and Lulay said he found himself smiling as they lined up for a snap.
"Solomon just plays with such emotion that it can't help but rub off in a positive way," he said.
Now in his ninth year with the Lions, Elimimian brings "a shot of adrenalin" to the lineup with confidence and good communication, Buono said.
"The whole idea of defence is getting guys in the right position," the coach said. "He's very good that way, all the guys trust him, they believe in him."
Elimimian is looking forward to his return, but knows Sunday's match up will be a challenge.
"(Hamilton) is a formidable team, a good team, a well-coached team," Elimimian said. "(Jeremiah) Masoli is a good quarterback and they have weapons on the offensive side of the ball. So it's going to take every single man in there to know their role and do their role effectively."
Both the Lions and Ticats head into the weekend looking to snap a three-game losing streak in order to keep their season alive. But records don't matter in the playoffs, Lulay said.
"Both of us played an 18 game season to play here right now," he said. "It's really out the window once the whistle blows."
B.C. and Hamilton split their regular-season series, but the Lions will have a number of fresh faces on the roster this weekend.
They include Lulay, who missed both previous meetings with Hamilton due to injury, and running back Tyrell Sutton, who was traded to the Lions from the Montreal Alouettes in late September.
Buono expects both teams to put forward intense, exciting performances.
"Hamilton plays a physical football, we play a physical football. They're well coached, I believe we're well coached," he said.
"You're going to have to take advantage of opportunities, you're going to have to eliminate any major or big mistakes. And if you don't, then obviously you're not going to come out a winner."
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press