Simon Says

JULIE HORBAL -- Special to the Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

There is one big difference between Geroy Simon the Blue Bomber and Geroy Simon the B.C. Lion. And it's not the colour of his uniform.

Since departing from Winnipeg as a forgettable player seven seasons ago, the 30-year-old slot back has lit up the leaderboards and become one of the most dominant receivers in the CFL -- and apparently it all just comes down to a change of scenery, a change of pace and a touch of luck.

"The only difference is we just knew how to use him," laughs Lions coach and general manager Wally Buono, who has seen Simon through three campaigns of major-league magic and will be behind the bench when the Lions head into Winnipeg on Thursday.

According to Simon, his game just clicked sometime after donning the B.C. uniform -- though it took a while for his life to catch up after he left the Bombers for the Kansas City Chiefs (NFL) and eventually landed in Vancouver.

"Almost instantly I knew I'd made a mistake leaving Winnipeg," Simon says. "I realized it in Kansas and even in my first year in B.C, I just wasn't comfortable living there and, while I was playing well, I just was not comfortable with my situation."

A self-proclaimed East Coaster, the Pennsylvania product admits to finding the West Coast lifestyle hard to get used to -- including everything from walking pace to dress to speed of speech.

While acclimatizing himself to the slower, relaxed way of Vancouver life, Simon threw his all into proving himself on the field and eventually found everything else in his life just caught up.

"I always felt I had the potential to be a dominant player if I was given the opportunity. It rode a lot on being able to have mental success," says Simon, who makes Vancouver home with his wife Tracy, whom he met in Winnipeg.

"As a Lion, I got more opportunities to catch balls and be an expert at my position."

After being released by the Chiefs in 2001, Simon was signed by B.C. as a free agent in October of the same year and played in only six games for the Lions. In 2002, however, the so-called rookie racked up 50 receptions to lead the Lions before moving on to a 1,000-yard receiving 2003, which culminated in being named both a West and CFL All-Star.

Simon continued his offensive roll in 2004, which saw him become only the third Lion to record a 100-reception season and also set a team record of 1,750 yards caught. He led B.C. in both yards and receptions for the third season in a row last year and ranked fourth in the league in receiving yards and fifth in receptions.

In Buono's opinion, Simon just found his niche in the Lions organization and is using his perhaps upstart comfort to get the job done.

"He's a big play guy," says Buono, who joined B.C. in 2003. "He relishes being able to win and he's good week in and week out. He's one of those guys who is usually very sharp and one of those guys with a tremendous amount of drive and tremendous amount of pride in what he is doing."

Simon points to the moment Buono took over as a big boost to the entire Lions organization, himself included, but he will not give the coach all the credit for making him the player he is today.

"I'm my biggest critic and I'm always on me," says Simon, who knows the upside and downside of football like the back of his hand.

"I've been cut and released so many times that now I'm not going to let anyone stop me from being successful. If a team's going to cut me, it's going to be because they wanted something different, not because I was doing anything less than my best."

That best has made Simon a cornerstone of the Lions offence and essential cog in the now-(insert record after Edmonton game) machine -- though thoughts of his Winnipeg days still draw a little sentiment and sorrow for things gone by out of the superstar receiver.

"Obviously I've settled into a groove (in B.C.), but I still miss playing with Milt Stegall, Albert Johnson and Khari Jones. We had great times and that was a friendship that will last forever. But I guess you have to grow up, move on. We went our separate ways, although we will always be connected," says Simon, who does not seem to be able to pinpoint the moment in which his game clicked into high gear post-Winnipeg, but admits he will never really look back now.

"You always hear about the guys who could be successful," Simon says. "I got my success, I took my success and I ran with it."


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