In his journey through the NFL, Cleo Lemon crossed pigskin paths with Doug Flutie, a union that has come full circle.
It was Flutie who opened Lemon’s eyes about three-down football and the potential of one day playing in a league that’s quarterback friendly.
“Doug would share many great stories about his experience,’’ Lemon recalled on Wednesday, a day when the Argos signed the NFL pivot.
“Doug often said how much he enjoyed his time in Canada. He was the first one who sort of introduced me to the CFL. He was the first to say how there’s another professional league out there for me to compete, for me to show my skill set. Doug thought I would bring a lot to the table.”
If Lemon is able to do half of what Flutie accomplished, then the Argos have that long-awaited quarterback necessary in a pass-happy league.
Lemon has been given nothing by the Argos, who now have four to line up under centre after cleaning the quarterback house this off-season, except the opportunity to compete for the starting job in an open competition.
At 30 years old, Lemon is at that stage in his career where he wants to play football and not go through the carousel of politics and carrying a clipboard in the NFL.
“When the Argos situation was presented, it was a no-brainer for me,’’ Lemon said. “The team is starting from scratch. The competition will be wide open and that’s all one can ask.”
Lemon has started in the NFL, has the requisite mobility to play in the CFL, has arm strength and exudes a humility that appears to be genuine.
“I was never drafted, have always approached each day with a hard-hat mentality and I’m truly excited about joining the Argos and the opportunity that awaits,’’ he said. “I want to win a ring.”
What remains to be seen is how Lemon adjusts to the many nuances that will greet him when he competes at camp.
As coaches like to say, he makes all the throws and reads coverages, but the CFL features subtleties only experience and exposure can teach.
He’s aware of the extra defender in the secondary, the unlimited motion on offence and the freedom quarterbacks are afforded.
“Improvisation is the word Doug mentioned,’’ added Lemon, who was the third-stringer in San Diego six years ago when he played behind Drew Brees and Flutie.
“Doug was the master of that. When I played with Doug or would see him play, I saw that childhood aspect to him. He was having fun. He had an energy about him and that’s something I pride myself.”
Argos head coach Jim Barker became aware of Lemon during his time with the Chargers.
Greg Mohns, whose ties with the Argos ended this off-season, deserves a lot of the credit for pointing Lemon toward Toronto when he added the quarterback’s list to the team’s neg list.
“This signing could not have been done without Greg’s work,’’ Barker said. “Greg was the one who kept tracking Cleo.”
For Lemon, the off-season has been quite eventful.
He and his wife celebrated the arrival of their first child, daughter Madison.
“She’s one month old and she’s sleeping through the night,’’ Lemon said. “It’s a blessing.”
And now comes the new challenge of learning a new game.
“I just can’t wait to get things going,’’ he said.
The Argos likely are to add more quarterbacks, perhaps as many as two, but it’s unlikely any will have the cache of Lemon.
Assuming he makes the team, for the Argos’ sake he’d better, Lemon wants to give back to the community.
Two years ago, Lemon and his wife started the Cleo Lemon-aide Foundation in his native Mississippi.
Lemon runs youth camps and brings together pro athletes to provide guidance and leadership to kids.
“You can’t duplicate the feeling of watching a kid smile. Community and family are very important.”
It’s obvious Lemon gets it.
He was raised by two parents and his father, Cleo Lemon Sr., coached Cleo in high school.
“I feel blessed and I enjoy giving back.”