Two of the defensive stars of this CFL season so far have been B.C.'s Adam Bighill and Edmonton's J.C. Sherritt, who have plenty in common. Both are middle linebackers who have really risen to prominence this year, and they're drawing plenty of comparisons, including early buzz as candidates for the league's defensive player of the year award. As Mike Beamish of The Vancouver Sun writes, though, comparisons between these two guys are anything but new, considering how they've been facing off for years, from high school to college and now the CFL.
The competition between Adam Bighill and J.C. Sherritt started in high school, when both were star running backs from opposite sides of the Evergreen State and continued on to powerlifting contests, mano o mano.
Two years ago, the rivalry shifted to the home of the Seattle Seahawks -- Qwest Field, now CenturyLink Field -- where the Eagles of Eastern Washington defeated the Wildcats of Central Washington 45-42 in rare matchup between the state-supported universities.
Sherritt, the Eagles middle linebacker, had 11 tackles and a pass breakup in that Sept. 11, 2010 game. Bighill, who patrolled the middle for the Division II Wildcats, had nine tackles and an interception, which he promptly returned 66 yards for a touchdown.
Now their field of comparison is the Canadian Football League, where B.C. Lions head coach Mike Benevides threw down the gauntlet this week by declaring the race on between Sherritt and Bighill for the league's defensive player of the year award.
So far, Sherritt may have the slight edge at the CFL level, but it's awfully close. He has a league-leading 58 tackles this season in seven games, while Bighill is second in the league with 53 tackles but has played one extra game. In other statistics, both have two interceptions, but Bighill has added two sacks while Sherritt has a fumble recovery. Both have been crucial parts of their respective teams' defences, though, with Sherritt helping carry the Eskimos to second in the West despite their lacklustre offence, while Bighill has perfectly filled in for the departed Solomon Elimimian. Elimimian left for the NFL's Minnesota Vikings in the offseason, but was cut by them Saturday; it's likely he'll wind up sticking around there or elsewhere in the NFL, but even if he did return up north, Bighill has played so well that Elimimian may have more value to the Lions as trade bait. Sherritt and Bighill have played themselves firmly into the discussion of the league's best defensive player, and that's saying something.
The background of the Sherritt-Bighill rivalry illustrates how football's not just about what happens at the CFL level. Many of these guys have past histories with each other at the high school, junior and college levels, whether that's in Canada or the U.S., and school rivalries can come into play even for those who never actually faced each other. By and large, that's generally a good thing, as it can add some extra emotion and motivation for players. In the case of Bighill and Sherritt, it's certainly interesting that they're going against each other once again. What's even more notable, though, is how yet again, at a new level, they've turned themselves into critical pieces for their respective teams. That says a lot about their quality, and shows that the Lions and Eskimos were lucky to land them.