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Inking star quarterback Mike Reilly ushers in new era for B.C. Lions: GM

SURREY, B.C. — Mike Reilly sees himself winning Grey Cups with the B.C. Lions — a lot of Grey Cups. "I felt like coming to B.C.

SURREY, B.C. — Mike Reilly sees himself winning Grey Cups with the B.C. Lions — a lot of Grey Cups.

"I felt like coming to B.C. was going to give me the best opportunity to win the most championships that I could for the remainder of my career," the star quarterback told reporters Tuesday after it was announced that he had inked a four-year, $2.9-million contract with the club.

The 34-year-old is no stranger to the Lions. He started his CFL career with the club in 2011 before Ed Hervey, then general manager of the Edmonton Eskimos, lured him to Alberta in 2013.

Reilly spent six years in Edmonton, developing into one of the league's top quarterbacks and winning a Grey Cup in 2015.

"I've been through all of it — missed the playoffs, won a Grey Cup. Been at the lower end of the pack statistically, lead the league in stats. Won an (most outstanding player). None of that matters except for winning the Grey Cup," said the six-foot-three, 230-pound  grad of Central Washington State University. "That's the only time I've ever felt fulfilled after a season."

Last year Reilly threw for 5,562 yards, 30 touchdowns and 18 interceptions, marking the third season in a row where he's put up more than 5,500 yards.

In 2015, he was named the Grey Cup's most valuable player and took the league's most outstanding player honour in 2017. Reilly was also dubbed a CFL all-star in 2017 and a West Division all-star in 2014 and 2017.

It was a familiar face who brought Reilly back to the coast — Hervey is now the Lions general manager and has committed to building a winning team around the star quarterback.

"Today makes a statement about our commitment to winning, competing for championships and not just being an ordinary football team," Hervey said Tuesday.

"This is a new era of B.C. Lions football."

Hervey began his revamp of the team in December, hiring former Calgary Stampeders defensive coordinator DeVone Claybrooks to be the new head coach after the retirement of Wally Buono.

The next step, the general manager said, was to sign championship-calibre players, starting with a marquee quarterback who could contribute both on and off the field.

Reilly can handle being the new face of the Lions franchise, Hervey said.

"He and I share the same passion for this league," he said. "We love this league, we appreciate this league and we understand that we have to do our part to help this league. And that means that we have to inject life into a fan base."

Speaking to Hervey ahead of free agency, Reilly was reminded of how what the general manager promised six years ago and how the vision he outlined came to life.

"When you've gone to battle with somebody and you've seen them do it, that's how you build that trust, in my opinion," he said.

"Ed took a chance on me in 2013. I hadn't proven anything. I'd won one game and lost a game as a B.C. Lion. He took a chance on me. He believed in me and I believed in him and we built something with all the teammates and the coaching staff at that time that I'll never forget. But I'm looking forward to building something even bigger and better and doing it here in B.C."

With his wife, Emily, and two young daughters living year-round in nearby Seattle, Reilly said the move also works well for his family.

He plans to be with the Lions long-term, saying he believes this contract will be the first of many.

"I don't plan to finish any time before 40," Reilly said, adding that he plans to end his playing career in B.C. "I don't think that's a stretch of the imagination, but it doesn't just happen either."

Creating an elite football team will take more than a single player, too, he added.

"I know that I'm a part of this and I know that everybody who's going to be in that locker room in the 2019 season and beyond is going to have an equal piece of that," Reilly said. "We're going to do things the right way and we're going to play championship-level football and we're going to have that on the front of our mind every single day."

The Lions will bring in players to protect Reilly, Hervey said, but fans hoping to see some familiar faces on the roster may be disappointed with the "drastically" different roster.

"Last year's roster was last year's roster. It was built for a different reason. This roster is built looking with the future in mind, building our core," Hervey said.

The Lions struggled to maintain a healthy starting pivot last season, rotating between the injury-plagued Travis Lulay and backup Jonathon Jennings.

Lulay is one of Reilly's best friends and was a groomsman in his wedding, and Reilly said the pair have talked extensively about him playing for the Lions.

Lulay was always very supportive, he said.

The 35-year-old is eligible to become a free agent as of Tuesday, but has not publicly spoken about whether he'll play next season.

"I don't know what the future holds for him, but he's going to do great things, whether it's as a football player, as a coach, as an analyst or whether it's doing something totally away from football, I don't know," Reilly said. "But what I do know is he has a lot of passion for this franchise and he wants it to be successful."

The Lions haven't entered discussions with Lulay about his future, Hervey said.

"We're giving his time to decide what he wants to do," he said.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press