By Jim Bender, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Kenny Lawler is planning to make up for six weeks of lost time.
The veteran American wide receiver will finally suit up for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers this season when they take on the Edmonton Elks at IG Field on Thursday.
Lawler, 29, pleaded guilty to a 2021 impaired driving charge in a Manitoba court on April 4. He was fined $1,500 and had his driver’s licence suspended for a year.
As a result, the U.S. citizen became unable to enter Canada and ineligible to earn any pay with the Bombers. The situation has since been resolved.
While waiting, Lawler spent six weeks running and working out to stay in shape.
“I think I’ll hit the ground running and see how it goes,” said Lawler, who did not play catch with anyone in the interim. “I was just really focused on my shape.
“When it comes to the ball in the air, I believe I’m the best. I still need to practise that (catching) but, in my situation, it was still kind of hard doing so. But the biggest part, as far as being a professional athlete in the CFL is staying in shape, and I believe I’m in shape and I’m just ready to go out there to catch some footballs and help better my team.”
After spending last season with Edmonton, the six-foot-two, 199-pound receiver had signed with Winnipeg as a free agent in February, returning to the club he helped win two Grey Cups (2019, 2021).
Lawler participated in his first practice (closed) since training camp on Tuesday.
“He looks good, he’s got fresh legs and seems to be flying around out there,” said Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea. “He’s been working out on his own, been training, making sure he’s going to be ready. It’s hard to duplicate the idea of getting tackled. Obviously, you don’t do that in training.
“Other than that, I’m sure he’s going to be in peak shape.”
Lawler will provide a spark to a team that suffered a 31-28 overtime loss to the underdog Ottawa Redblacks last week.
“It’s going to be awesome,” said slotback Nic Demski. “You know, we had a little taste of it in pre-season and in training camp. Today was a great taste of it.
“It added another spark to this team that we need. I love playing with Kenny, he’s a great teammate, he’s a great playmaker. It’s going to be exciting having him out there in between the lines on Thursday.”
Lawler, who has caught 165 passes for 2,545 yards and 15 touchdowns in 41 games over his four-year CFL career, relished being back.
“It feels good, man,” he said. “It’s definitely a blessing to be back here with the guys and the love that I received coming back into the locker room, stepping on to the field was great. I was just embraced by hugs. It was just great spirits and just ready to get back to work. The guys were ready to work and it’s just an unbelievable feeling.
“You guys know what it means to be here, it’s a special place in that locker room. It was just very special to me to be able to walk in and just feel the love from my guys.”
Dalton Schoen, Winnipeg’s leading receiver with 431 yards on 27 catches, is keen to see how Lawler will help the offence.
“Any time we can get another guy back in the lineup, it’s good for the team,” Schoen said. :It’s been a while since training camp and we saw what we could do when we were at full strength as a unit, so looking forward to getting Kenny back on the field with us and having some fun.
“It’s going help the whole team, it’s going to help the offence, so I’m excited for it.”
Lawler is looking forward to catching balls from quarterback Zach Collaros, the two-time reigning CFL outstanding player.
“Oh man, that’s going to be unbelievable,” Lawler said. “That was one of the biggest things coming here — I get to play with Zach again. You know, it’s happening in Week 7, but it’s just a great feeling to come back and play with a guy that loves the game, that’s going to prepare like the best. I know there’s going to be fireworks out there.”
Collaros was not made available for comment.
Meanwhile, Lawler expressed no sympathy for his former Edmonton teammates, who are 0-6 this season.
“Why should I feel bad? This is my team now,” he said.