Veteran Rhymes has enjoyed career-best CFL campaign with B.C. Lions

Any other year, Dominique Rhymes would be the B.C. Lions' nominee for the CFL's outstanding player award.

The veteran receiver has posted career highs in catches (82), receiving yards (1,346) and touchdowns (11) to help B.C. (12-5) secure its first playoff berth since 2018. But those impressive stats have come in the same season that Lions quarterback Nathan Rourke took the league by storm before requiring foot surgery.

"I think that tells you just how special our team is," Rhymes said during a telephone interview. "We've got so many great people, man."

Rourke, 24, of Victoria, staked B.C. to an 8-1 record before suffering a Lisfranc sprain in his right foot during a 28-10 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Aug. 19. At the time, Rourke, in his first full season as the starter, led the CFL in passing yards (3,281), TDs (25) and completion percentage (79.2) while also rushing 304 yards and seven touchdowns on 39 carries.

Rourke had been named the CFL's top performer five times.

Rourke returns on Friday night in Winnipeg against the defending-champion Blue Bombers (14-3). He'll start and is expected to play a quarter.

"He's the captain of our ship and as long as we have him, we know he's going to lead us in the right direction," Rhymes said. "It's tremendous seeing him smile out there on the practice field, it just makes everybody feel better.

"We know how much work he puts in and it motivates us to work a little bit harder."

Winnipeg and B.C. have already clinched first and second, respectively, in the West Division. The Lions will host the Calgary Stampeders (11-6) in the conference semifinal Nov. 6 with the winner visiting the Blue Bombers on Nov. 13.

Rhymes is currently second in CFL receiving behind Winnipeg rookie Dalton Schoen (68 catches, 1,357 yards, 15 TDs). Both will start Friday night and Rhymes said B.C. has plenty to play for.

"We want to play good football," he said. "At the end of the day this is a regular-season game, we're going against an opponent, you put in a game plan to execute and that's what we're going to do as best we can.

"We have Nathan coming back and want to get a good rhythm as far as the playoff game is concerned. Getting Nathan feeling comfortable out there is a big thing for us."

Rhymes tops a quality Lions receiving corps that also includes Keon Hatcher (65 catches, 984 yards, five TDs), Lucky Whitehead (73 receptions, 966 yards, three TDs), perennial all-star Bryan Burnham (41 catches, 596 yards and four TDs in nine games) and Jevon Cottoy (49 catches, 541 yards, three TDs).

Whitehead (ankle) returns Friday night after missing three games. Burnham (wrist), a three-time 1,000-yard performer, is expected to rejoin the Lions for the playoffs.

Dealing with B.C.'s receivers certainly gives CFL defensive coordinators plenty to deal with. But there's also the matter of running back James Butler, the league' second-leading rusher (1,054 yards, 5.9-yard average, seven TDs) to consider.

"I credit the front office for putting a team like ours together," Rhymes said. "The receiving group we have, I think, is scary … we take pride in that.

"Historically, we want to be something the league has never seen before."

The six-foot-four, 215-pound Rhymes is completing his second year with B.C., registering 28 catches for 411 yards and aTD in 2021. The 29-year-old Miami native spent his first three CFL seasons with the Ottawa Redblacks (2017-19).

His best campaign with Ottawa was his last, recording 65 catches for 1,056 yards and five TDs in 17-regular-season games.

"I think the difference between this year and any other is I've just been put in a great position to make more plays," Rhymes said. "My teammates give me the utmost confidence to be as dominant as I can and I go into every game trying to be most dominant player I can be on the field for them.

"They (teammates) give me so much confidence because they believe in me so much. If they see the ball in the air, they know, 'Dom's going to catch that. That's what he does,' and that makes me feel good."

Kenny Kim of Summit Athletes, Rhymes' Florida-based agent, said the former Murray State star pays attention to even the smallest detail.

"With his route-running, he's so precise in what he does," Kim said. "With his size and speed, he's a prototypical wide receiver and someone who fits that mould.

"Beyond that, he's just super talented, super all-around guy."

While his attention remains squarely upon Winnipeg, Rhymes admits he's excited about B.C. hosting its first playoff game since 2016 and second since 2012.

"You play the regular season to be able to get to the playoffs," he said. "It's where history is made, where elite players separate themselves from other players because they want to win.

"That (Calgary) is an amazing football team and when it's time to prepare for them, we will. But right now, we still have our last regular-season game to focus on and play winning football … so when that time (playoffs) comes, we feel good about ourselves."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 27, 2022.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press