Adam Bighill wasn't supposed to make it.
But the Winnipeg Blue Bombers linebacker's story is a perfect example of what can be accomplished if someone outworks the competition and doesn't take no for an answer.
The latest chapter of that story was written in Sunday's 18-16 victory over the visiting Calgary Stampeders when Bighill became the 10th player in CFL history to record 700 career defensive tackles.
An impressive feat for anyone, let alone a guy that was deemed by many as too small to play at a major NCAA program and had to take his talents to Div. II Central Washington.
CFL's all-time defensive tackles leadersClick to Expand
1. Willie Pless - 1,241 (217 GP)
2. Mike O'Shea - 1,151 (271 GP)
3. Alondra Johnson - 1,095 (248 GP)
4. Chip Cox - 979 (228 GP)
5. Barrin Simpson - 955 (177 GP)
6. Solomon Elimimian - 833 (133 GP)
7. Eddie Davis - 801 (236 GP)
8. Greg Battle - 766 (180 GP)
9. Kevin Eiben - 722 (182 GP)
10. Adam Bighill - 701 (136 GP)
The CFL didn't officially keep track of defensive tackles until 1987.
"We had recruiters come in. Washington State came in and they wouldn't even look at any film because they just looked at him and they already made a decision. Same with Eastern Washington. They didn't watch one second of film," said Terry Jensen, who coached Bighill at Montesano High School and has led their football program since 2002.
"...He had an outstanding high school career. He was a two-time player of the year in our league, was all-state for two years. He had a alot of credentials, he just wasn't tall enough. I just think Adam doesn't listen to the critics… He's the hardest worker I've ever coached and that's both on the field and off the field."
For people like Jensen who were with Bighill in the early days of his football journey, it's not a shock to see that being 5-10 hasn't stopped him from carving out a 10-year career as a professional and solidify himself as one of the best linebackers the Canadian game has ever seen.
Blaine Bennett, Bighill's coach for three seasons at Central Washington who now coaches Post Falls High School in Idaho, believes the reason his former linebacker has been able to make it big comes down to three things.
"No. 1, he's got an amazing attitude… Probably the second thing was his desire to be the best that he can be. He never took a day off in the weight room. He never took a day off of practice. His work ethic was second to none," Bennett said.
"And obviously, then you need to have a little bit of talent. He's got that speed and agility that's hard to measure in high school, especially coming from a small high school like he did… He has that speed, but the anticipation and the acceleration that he has is what really made him an excellent linebacker."
When Bighill made tackle No. 1 back in 2011 as a rookie with the B.C. Lions, he didn't exactly envision that he'd go on to make 699 more of those in the Great White North and eventually call Canada his home. As a senior at Central Washington, he was the conference's co-defensive player of the year but it didn't lead to a shot at the NFL as the league had a lockout that lasted more than 18 weeks. Instead of waiting for a new collective bargaining agreement to get sorted out, Bighill opted to go to the CFL.
"There were plenty of teams that wanted to bring me into camp but they couldn't 'cause no one was signing free agents…. You look at a guy like (Saskatchewan Roughriders linebacker) Larry Dean, we came out the same year. He waited for the NFL to open up and it worked out for him. I think he played a good five years down there where I didn't take that chance," Bighill told the Free Press in a phone interview on Tuesday.
"I signed a contract in the CFL thinking I'd make my way down to the NFL at some point. It worked out different than how I thought it would have worked, but at the same time, I don't think I would've done anything different."
After six seasons with the Lions, Bighill finally got an NFL shot. The New Orleans Saints brought the Montesano, Wash., native in and placed him on their practice squad for the 2017 campaign. Bighill returned to the CFL the following year, inking a deal with the Blue Bombers and he's been in Blue and Gold ever since. Despite having no prior connections to the city, Bighill, his wife Kristina and their three kids A.J., Leah, and Beau have fully embraced Winnipeg and live in the Manitoba capital year-round.
'It's just kind of a culmination of how I approach every single day… I just aim every single day to get better and be a better football player and give it my all to my teammates. When I take that approach every day, good things happen. At this point, that means getting over the 700 tackles mark." – Blue Bombers linebacker Adam Bighill
"That's really what Adam's all about. When he commits to something, he's all in," Bennett said.
"He wouldn't go up there for six, seven months then go live in Texas or live in Washington. He would jump in 100 per cent, be a year-round guy in the weightroom, year-round in the community, year-round in the organization and really be the voice and the face of any program or any establishment that he would've joined. So, that doesn't surprise me at all, in fact, I'd expect that of Adam."
It's that approach that's made Bighill as successful as he's been in the CFL. For the 32-year-old Bighill, a two-time Grey Cup champion and a two-time Most Outstanding Defensive Player of the Year award winner, milestones like the 700 tackles club are reminders of what you can do when you play with a chip on your shoulder.
"It's just kind of a culmination of how I approach every single day… I just aim every single day to get better and be a better football player and give it my all to my teammates. When I take that approach every day, good things happen. At this point, that means getting over the 700 tackles mark," said Bighill.
"When I look back, I'm proud of my consistency to my approach to the game and what I bring to the game and how my process works. At this point, that's what I'm really proud of."
Bighill heads into Sunday's game in Regina against the Riders with 701 career tackles, but he's going to have to remain consistent for a few more years if he's going to climb up the list and pass his current head coach Mike O'Shea who sits in second at 1,151. Longtime Edmonton linebacker and Canadian Football Hall of Famer Willie Pless has the record with 1,241 defensive tackles.
"I'm not gonna put it off the horizon, that's for sure. I sure would like to kick his ass in the record books, but it's quite the accomplishment," Bighill said.
"I have a lot of respect for Osh and to be on a board with his name on it already is already a big deal, but to get even closer would be pretty special and to overtake him at some point would be even better."
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.