The wave of CFL draft picks returning to their CIS schools may have a new addition, and it's an unusual one. That would be B.C. Lions' offensive lineman Matt Norman, the Western Mustangs' product the Lions took in the third round of this year's CFL draft (22nd overall). Unlike many of his peers, Norman elected to go to camp and sign a deal with the Lions, so he's not one of the guys who's hoping to improve his NFL stock, and he's been performing very well, so he won't be one of the countless guys cut who return to CIS for another year of seasoning. Instead, his rationale for returning to school, if it happens, is all about something many prize in student-athletes; he wants to finish his education.
Norman has been working on that goal all through camp, taking online courses through Western to finish his history degree, but he has to be on campus to achieve his teaching certification, and there's a ticking clock. If Norman goes back this fall, it's only going to take a year of study for him to pick that up, but the requirements are changing this coming year; if he doesn't do it soon, he'll have to spend two further years in school instead of one. Given the limited salaries in the CFL, especially for young players, earning an extra degree is probably quite a good goal for Norman, and it's understandable why he'd want to accomplish that in half the time it will take later. It does leave the Lions in a bit of a bind, though, as they may be losing a guy who could be a starter for them this season.
The interesting thing is that Norman was thought far more likely to be a bit player than a conqueror immediately following this draft. The Lions already had substantial Canadian depth on the interior of the offensive line with Angus Reid, Dean Valli, Jesse Newman and Jon Hameister-Ries, and they took the more-touted Kirby Fabien seventh overall as well. However, Fabien elected to head back to the University of Calgary and Valli, Newman and Hameister-Ries have all been hurt (although the latter may be returning soon). That's forced the Lions to think a bit unconventionally, but Norman's exceptional performance in camp and the preseason has given them another option (along with veteran Patrick Kabongo, the former CFL all-star picked up as an injury replacement who's going through some unconventional training of his own). If he heads back to the Mustangs, though, filling the void left by the offensive line injuries may be more of a concern for the Lions.
There is a potential option that could work for Norman and the team, though. TSN's Dave Naylor reported during Wednesday night's preseason game that Norman might stick with the team through Labour Day before heading back to Western to resume his classes. That might provide the best of both worlds: Norman could still do his teaching certificate, as those classes shouldn't start until September, and he'd get some vital experience with the Lions before that, while the team would likely have a couple of their injured veterans back by that time and have less of a crucial need for Norman. The one concern with this plan is that CIS players who return to school aren't necessarily tied to the team that drafted them, though, so the Lions might not want to see Norman walk out the door with no guarantee of his return. Still, this approach could give B.C. some offensive line help during the period they most need it and allow Norman to pick up his certificate while it's still relatively easy to do so. We'll see if it comes to pass, but it might be the best possible outcome here for both sides.