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Alouettes’ Lemon won’t get into war of words with Bombers head coach

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Mike O’Shea doesn’t think Montreal rush end should be allowed to play while appealing his suspension for gambling on CFL games.

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While there’s always something special about a Grey Cup rematch, this Thursday’s season-opening Alouettes game at Winnipeg probably took on more significance recently for Shawn Lemon.

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Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea, a former CFL linebacker and member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, told the Winnipeg Sun last month he doesn’t believe the Alouettes rush-end should be playing after gambling on league games in 2021, including one in which he played.

Lemon, who bet 70 euros (approximately $100 Canadian) was given an indefinite suspension by the CFL in April, but filed an appeal through the league’s players’ association. Until that appeal is heard — no timetable has been set — he can continue practising and playing.

While Lemon, 35, expressed some private displeasure in May when learning of O’Shea’s comments, he took the high road Monday after practice at Stade Hébert in St-Léonard.

“We’re all entitled to our own opinion,” Lemon said. “I play the game the right way. My peers, teammates, players across the league all know that. Coaches that have worked with me know that. I’ve never had the pleasure of working with (O’Shea). He doesn’t know who Shawn Lemon, the person or the player, is. Everyone else that has actually worked with me understands who I am as a person and player.

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“I can’t control someone else’s opinion of me. I can control being the best version of myself every day, being the best teammate and the best defensive end.”

Lemon said he has no plans to seek out O’Shea during pre-game warm-ups. “He’s not playing. He’s not on the menu.” Nor does he expect O’Shea to confront him.

“I don’t see any place in this league for people who bet on our games, bet on their own football games,” O’Shea told the Winnipeg Sun. “I take a lot of pride in this league and the integrity this league has had.”

Lemon, 6-foot-1 and 242 pounds, had a significant impact last season after signing with Montreal in late July. In 13 regular-season games, he produced 26 tackles, nine quarterback sacks, had two interceptions, forced a fumble and recovered one for the first touchdown of his career. He has been a member of every organization except Hamilton and is entering his 13th season. He has 101 career sacks.

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Lemon said his body feels good. He had a good training camp and his legs should be well rested after he wasn’t dressed last Friday in Ottawa. Now in his second season under defensive co-ordinator Noel Thorpe’s system, Lemon believes he can remain productive. In 2023, he might have been the only player under Thorpe who was given free reign to ad lib on the field, deciding where best to line up to get to the quarterback.

While Lemon won’t pat himself on the back, he brought leadership and experience to the Als. He’s so highly thought of by his teammates that on Saturday he was voted one of the team’s two players’ association reps, along with veteran guard Kristian Matte, according to a CFLPA source.

Lemon doesn’t enter a season with a sacks goal in mind, knowing if he continues to play fast and aggressively while attacking, the production will follow.

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“Anybody can go in and speak words,” Lemon said. “When you go out there and your actions match your words, that’s when guys truly follow you.”

The Als rode their defence to a championship last year, winning their final eight regular-season and playoff games. They have tinkered with the unit, adding defensive tackles Dylan Wynn, Derek Wiggan and rush-end Isaac Adeyemi Berglund, all through free agency. Can they again catch lightning in a bottle?

“I’m super excited,” Lemon said. “Coach Thorpe does an amazing job. I feel he’s one of the co-ordinators in this league that doesn’t get the credit he deserves. We’re always prepared for games. I’m thankful to have an opportunity to play for an amazing guy like that.”

Lemon doesn’t believe he’s circumventing any rules by continuing to practise and play. He has appealed and this is part of the due process. The incident occurred in 2021 and he continued playing two seasons until it came to light. Lemon said as he learns more, he’ll be willing to provide more details.

Meanwhile, the Als made their final cuts on Saturday while announcing their 12-man practice roster. Of the players released, the biggest name was receiver Tevin Jones, a free-agent addition this season from Saskatchewan. He was beaten out by rookie Charleston Rambo.

hzurkowsky@postmedia.com

twitter.com/HerbZurkowsky1

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