Travis Lulay always knew he would be back under centre for the B.C. Lions.
He just didn't expect it to take this long.
The veteran quarterback will start his first game of 2014 on Friday when the Lions visit the Ottawa Redblacks, almost a full year after injuring his throwing shoulder in a goal-line collision last September.
It was hoped Lulay would be healthy in time for training camp after undergoing off-season surgery, but he instead takes charge nine games into a campaign that has seen the Lions wobble to 5-4 record in the CFL's ultra-competitive West Division.
"I'm excited. This is why you play the game — to have an opportunity to play," Lulay said after Wednesday's practice. "I don't take a minute of it for granted. If I learned anything during (the last year), it was that I feel fortunate to be able to do what I do. I just love being out here with the guys."
Lulay said going on the six-game injured list at the start of the regular season gave him a chance to refocus, and it was towards the end of that period when he finally started to feel like he was getting back to normal.
"I knew it was a process ... I didn't know exactly when that process would come to an end," he said. "I do feel confident in my ability to play well.
"There was so much unknown going into (training) camp, knowing there was a chance that I may be ready early (and) knowing there was a chance it might take a while into the season."
Lulay has dressed the last three games as a backup — seeing action late in the last two — and with the team coming off a bye week, head coach Mike Benevides felt the time was right for the 30-year-old to take over from Kevin Glenn.
"He's as good as I've seen him in a long, long time ... a long, long time," Benevides said of Lulay. "He's not going to be as smooth as he wants to be a month from now, but he looks as good as I've seen in a long time."
Lulay's return comes at a critical juncture for B.C., which has been consistently inconsistent so far in 2014. The Lions have road victories over the Calgary Stampeders (8-1) and Saskatchewan Roughriders (7-2), but are an uncharacteristic 2-3 at home.
While travelling to the nation's capital to take a 1-8 expansion team might seem like an easy game to get Lulay back in rhythm, the Lions know the Redblacks will be a stiff test, especially for B.C.'s offence.
"We know we've got a battle in front of us," said Lulay. "I really believe Ottawa's defence is a solid defence. They've been playing good football and keeping their team in games."
After an upbeat week of practice, Benevides said having the team's No. 1 pivot back as the starter has energized the club as it looks towards the second half of the season.
"There's no doubt the guys feel good for Travis," said Benevides. "Travis is part of who they are and a lot of guys feel for him and expect a lot of out of him. He's just a high-tempo guy, a charismatic-type leader and it's nice to have him back."
Lions running back Andrew Harris, who sits fourth in the CFL with 421 yards rushing on the season, said Lulay brings a different dynamic to the club.
"He's a playmaker and he's been our leader for a long time. It's just good to have him back. He's comfortable and we're ready to rock with him," said Harris. "There's a certain confidence and a certain little aura that comes with Travis Lulay."
Added linebacker Solomon Elimimian: "He's a general. When he talks, everybody listens."
While Glenn guided the Lions to a 5-4 record with an offence that ranks second in the CFL in total yards per game, he also had a league-high 11 interceptions, with many of those picks coming at key times.
In Lulay, the Lions get their franchise player back for the second half of a season that will culminate with the Grey Cup game at B.C. Place Stadium in November.
"I don't feel nervous. I have the confidence of guys around me," said Lulay. "This team knows me. This team knows how I play the game and how competitive I am and all those things. I know that I'm going to get a great effort from those guys and I can feel their confidence even though I've been out of the huddle for a little while."
Notes: Lions kick returner Tim Brown was named the CFL's special teams player of the month for August. ... The Lions added two new players this week, offensive lineman Cory Brandon and long snapper Mike Benson. Brandon was just cut by the Seattle Seahawks last week and looks like a good bet to start at left tackle against Ottawa because of an injury to rookie Hunter Steward. Benson was added after regular long snapper Jordan Matechuk also went down.