Geroy Simon didn't know what to expect when he signed as a rookie free agent with the Canadian Football League's Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 1999.
Fourteen years later, the former Maryland wide receiver has torn through the CFL record books on his way to becoming the most prolific pass catcher in league history.
The 38-year-old Simon holds the CFL record for receiving yards (16,188), and he tied Ben Cahoon's record for most career receptions (1,017) last week. He can break that mark Sunday when his Saskatchewan Roughriders visit the Montreal Alouettes.
"I just wanted to play football, no matter if it was north or south of the border," Simon said in a conference call last week. "Obviously I didn't think I'd be No. 1 in the history of a league that's over 100 years old....
"When I first got here, I looked at the record books and saw Allen Pitts [with 14,891 career receiving yards] and said, 'Man, I just hope to have one 1,000-yard season,'" Simon said.
Simon is in his 15th season and had nine-straight 1,000 yard seasons from 2003 to 2011.
Simon ranks second in the Terps' record book for career receptions (185) and fourth in receiving yards (2,059). After college he pent time on the Pittsburgh Steelers' practice squad in 1998. But the 6-foot, 190-pound slot receiver wasn't anywhere close to seeing playing time and decided to take a chance.
His decision to head north paid off.
"I had bounced around the NFL and felt like I wasn't getting a fair shot," Simon said. "I knew if I got a true opportunity that I would do well."
Simon said he was helped by his experience at Maryland, where he was part of head coach Mark Duffner's run-and-shoot offense. That offense went on to break multiple school records because of its fast tempo and wide-open aerial attack.
The pass-first offense also prepared Simon for the CFL, which has a wider field, a 20-second play clock and a rule allowing teams to have up to six eligible receivers.
"It prepared me in reading defenses and understanding where holes are and getting to those holes," Simon said. "It also taught me how to run routes from the inside and outside positions … especially in the Canadian Football League, where four receivers is mostly unheard of. We mostly go with five receivers."
After spending two years with the Blue Bombers, Simon signed with the BC Lions in 2001. During a 12-year stretch with the team, Simon became one of the league's most dominant receivers. He was named the CFL's Most Outstanding Player in 2006, when he led the league with 105 receptions for 1,835 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also won two Grey Cups, in 2006 and 2011, before being traded to Saskatchewan this offseason.
Sunday he looks to break the record of Cahoon, who was in training camp with Simon when they were trying to make the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' roster in 1998.
"Ben and I have been friends for a long time," Simon said. "I'm honored to have an opportunity to break a record of such a legendary player."
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