November 18, 2021

“I came in this season to be the best.”

#89 Kenny Lawler

They were rudimentary in that there was absolutely nothing fancy about them. There were no expensive fitness apparatuses involved and certainly none of the high-tech science some athletes use to reach peak performance in their training. And that’s why Kenny Lawler and his father Kenneth – the man who helped train him and keep him sharp both in the offseason and the lost campaign of 2020 – called them ‘jailhouse workouts.’

Lawler would do his speed training at San Bernardino Valley College – where his father was the defensive coordinator – and work with the quarterbacks there. And then his dad would run him through speed training and other rigorous but basic exercises like pull-ups and dips on monkey bars. Fast forward to this weekend and Lawler has a chance to not only crack the 1,000-yard mark as a receiver, but lead the Canadian Football League in receiving yardage. And a lot of that comes back to the sweat equity he put in over the last two years.

The Bombers’ Most Outstanding Rookie in 2019, Lawler has a slim lead atop the league in receiving with 973 yards on 60 receptions – just nine more yards than Eugene Lewis of the Montreal Alouettes, who has 964 yards on 62 catches.

“(A 1,000-yard season) would mean a lot to me, but that’s not the main concern on my mind,” Lawler said Thursday after the Bombers wrapped up their practice week. “My main concern is going in there and getting a win every week and if the yards come with it, the yards come with it. I just want to go out there and compete and be with my brothers. And if that (1K receiving) comes, it’s going to be a helluva accolade but we’ll let our play dictate that.”

Worth noting here is that no Bombers receiver has led the CFL in yardage since Milt Stegall in 2002. Further to that, only two Winnipeg receivers – Weston Dressler in 2016 and Darvin Adams in 2017 and 2018 – have even eclipsed the 1K mark in the last five seasons before this one.

“I didn’t know that stat with Milt Stegall and the Bombers, but definitely (it was a goal) coming into this season,” said Lawler. “I didn’t work this hard for nothing. I didn’t put in those hours, I didn’t put in those sleepless nights/early mornings for nothing.

“I came in this season to be the best. That’s just my competitiveness and the level of competitiveness I have within myself. I want to be the best. It don’t matter at what, I want to be the best. That work I’ve put in, it’s come to light. That’s my sentiment.”

Interestingly, Lawler’s success has come while the Bombers have managed to lead the CFL in scoring while having balance in their attack. Winnipeg ranks second in net yards, second in rushing and fifth in passing yardage. Even more impressive is the club has four players with 400 yards receiving or more in Lawler (973), Nic Demski (637), Rasheed Bailey (585) and Darvin Adams (441) – all this in a condensed season. Just by comparison, Lawler led the Bombers in receiving in 2019 with 637 yards.

“Kenny is a very talented receiver. I think everybody in CFL circles knows that by now,” said Bombers offensive coordinator Buck Pierce. “We’ve always had high expectations of him, but I also think it’s important to notice the other guys as well. A lot of people look at it individually – that guy got 1,000 yards and those types of things – but to be consistent, be balanced on offence and not just getting the ball to one guy and spreading the ball around, being able to run the football. All those things help. Obviously, kudos to our receiving corps and everybody on offence for that.

“I know it’s (1K season) not an easy thing to achieve and he’s worked extremely hard to get to the point that he is. He works hard in practice every day and he’s been coachable. We’re happy for him.”

Interestingly, when Lawler was asked to comment on the role of Zach Collaros in all this – now that he has been named the Bombers Most Outstanding Player he is clearly the front-runner for league honours – Lawler interrupted the question and broke into a ‘M-O-P! M-O-P!’ chant.

“He goes out there week after week and puts it all on the line, man he spreads the ball out and I just feel like with the team we have and the success that we have with him at quarterback I don’t see anyone else being the MOP of the league. He’s led the No. 1 team and I feel like he deserves it. That’s my opinion.”