Family and football brought Dylan Ainsworth home to the B.C. Lions
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SURREY, B.C. — Dylan Ainsworth got blindsided twice last spring.
The defensive lineman was injured on the third day of training camp with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, a neck problem initially thought to be a concussion that would ultimately cost him the entire 2016 season.
The next blow was far more serious — Ainsworth learned his father had been diagnosed with cancer.
"The injury itself, when your body is your job, it does affect your mindset. It's a setback," said the 24-year-old. "But my dad's health is more important than my playing career.
"That was the thing that really hit hardest."
The Roughriders allowed Ainsworth to come home to Tsawwassen, B.C., a community south of Vancouver, to recuperate alongside his dad, David, and the rest of the family.
Saskatchewan then granted the University of Western Ontario product an early release in January before he signed a two-year contract with his hometown B.C. Lions after getting medical clearance when CFL free agency opened in February.
Ainsworth spoke about his father's treatment for a form of bone marrow cancer known as multiple myeloma as he watched one of the Lions' minicamp sessions late last month from the sidelines at the club's practice facility.
Like anyone going through chemotherapy — David's started in November — there were good days and bad days.
"He responded well. It's a long process," said Ainsworth, who added the next step is stem cell replacement therapy. "When he feels good we go out and play golf and do everything we can to get the most out of his time because sometimes he just feels rotten.
"It's been tough for the whole family, but I think he's dealing with it as well as he can."
Ainsworth is back living at home (he joked that detail was "off the record") after seven years away playing football, helping out as much as he can while getting ready for training camp, which begins at the end of the month in Kamloops, B.C.
"My dad just wants to have people around," said Ainsworth. "Me just being there is really what matters when you're going through something like that."
The six-foot-three, 247-pound Ainsworth made a name for himself in Saskatchewan with inspired play in limited action. His long hair flaring out the back of his helmet made him hard to miss.
He was named Saskatchewan's special teams player of the year in 2015 before the lost 2016 campaign, but feels 100 per cent healthy and ready to take the next step as a contributor on defence with the Lions.
If that turns out to be the case for the 11th pick in the 2014 CFL draft, it would suit B.C. head coach and general manager Wally Buono just fine.
"We've always liked his size, we've always liked his speed," said Buono, who had the 12th selection in Ainsworth's draft year. "We want to get bigger on special teams, we want to get more physical on special teams.
"What he can do on defence is going to be up to him."
The Lions could have an opening in the defensive line rotation for a Canadian in 2017 after Jabar Westerman left as a free agent. It's possible Ainsworth might also find a home as a linebacker.
"It's just time to transition that tenacity and that athleticism to the defensive side of the ball," said Ainsworth, his hair now buzzed short. "I want to prove myself."
He used to watch Lions games from the stands at B.C. Place Stadium and can't wait to play in front of friends and family, especially his father.
"He's the architect of my career," said Ainsworth. "He was the most influential person in getting me from high school and then university. He did it all.
"I would have gone back (to the Roughriders) if the deal was right, but it kind of all lined up where I could come back home and play and be with my dad.
"It was too good of an opportunity to pass up."
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