Saturday, June 17, 2017

{allcanada} Arakgi stuns Lions by announcing retirement


VANCOUVER — The roar coming from inside the B.C. Lions' locker-room after a meaningless exhibition victory was the first clue.

By the time the media was allowed through the door, the reason for the noise became clear.

Jason Arakgi, the CFL's all-time leader in special teams tackles and one of the club's foot soldiers the last nine years, had just delivered an emotional speech to stunned teammates announcing he's retiring to pursue a job outside football.

The 32-year-old suited up for the final time in B.C.'s 42-10 blowout win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Friday, a sudden end to a career marked by hard work and little recognition.

"Like I said to the guys, I gave everything inside to football and my teammates," said Arakgi. "I might not have been the best football player to walk around, but I definitely have one of the biggest hearts. I truly love the guys in the locker-room and there's nothing I wouldn't do for these people.

"I just hope they remember that about me."

What they will also remember is a player that brought his work boots everyday in the thankless world of leading the punt, kickoff and field-goal units.

Arakgi broke the record for career special teams tackles last August — he retires with a total of 194 — while adding 26 more as a reserve linebacker in spot duty on defence.

The Montreal native's true value was inside the locker-room he bid farewell to Friday.

"You can just see the emotional attachment the guys have to Jason," said B.C. linebacker Solomon Elimimian, Arakgi's training camp roommate. "Jason's such a vibrant, pure person — someone you can always go talk to. It's going to hurt."

The league's most outstanding player in 2014, Elimimian tore his Achilles tendon the following year, but rebounded last season to win the CFL's top defensive award for a second time, thanks in part to Arakgi's encouragement.

"He's someone who helped me get through different things in my career, and someone I'm going to miss tremendously," said Elimimian. "At the end of the day he's doing it for his family. We understand the reason why.

"The career he's had, he deserves something great."

A third-round pick out of Hamilton's McMaster University in 2008, Arakgi will be working for a medical equipment sales company — an opportunity that came up quickly.

After getting countless hugs from teammates, he joked that retiring now wasn't the original plan, especially on the heels of a 10th professional training camp.

"Not usually the most ideal situation," said Arakgi, whose father, Nick, also played in the CFL. "For me it was more about being able to give the Lions as much notice as possible.

"I didn't want to leave them hanging."

A Grey Cup winner in 2011, Arakgi never suffered a major injury in his career and walks away from what can be a violent job in a tough sport on his own terms.

That doesn't make it any easier.

"It broke my heart saying goodbye to these guys and saying goodbye to football," he said. "It's something that's taught me so much in life.

"I'll never forget all the things I learned."

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