Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Bucking the trend

Canadian football players in the Canadian Football League. Novel concept, no?

Not so fast if you play quarterback, a position made up exclusively of Americans. Players born, raised and trained south of the border make the journey north of the 49th when the dream of making it in the National Football League begins to falter, taking the place of their Canadian counterparts.

This is not a recent paradox of the game’s most important position being comprised entirely of Americans. Doug Flutie? Raised in Maryland and a Boston College Alum. Damon Allen? Raised on the (American ) West coast and an outstanding two-sport athlete at Cal State Fullerton. Warren Moon? Another left coast native, who played his college ball with the Washington Huskies.

See the trend?

Year after year, Canadian born, raised and trained quarterbacks have ended their university careers and have been left with no real option to continue their careers, despite the fact that this country has a professional football league of its own that should be supporting their further development.

Granted, the CFL has a Canadian quota system in place: half of each team’s roster is reserved for Canadian athletes; however, their college location does not matter (so Canadian-born athletes who play NCAA are part of the Canadian quota) nor does the position that they play. Generally, Canadians on CFL teams are offensive linemen, defensive backs and receivers. Former Gryphons Mike Palmer, Dave McKoy and now Brad Crawford fit the bill.

But as far as quarterbacks go, Canadian signal-callers are extremely rare, with the only successful historical example being Russ Jackson, a McMaster Alum who played professionally with the Ottawa Rough Riders in the 1960s. Recent CIS-grads Tommy Denison and Teale Orban have tried to get a foot in the door, but to no avail, losing jobs to American competition.

But doom and gloom aside, as a great songwriter once said, the times, they are a-changin’.


In this past CIS football seasons, we have witnessed arguably the greatest quarterback play in the history of the league. Erik Glavic (Calgary), Michael Faulds (Western), Danny Brannagan (Queen’s) and Guelph’s own Justin Dunk have combined to shatter all-time passing records for Canadian quarterbacks, raising the bar for quality at the position and reintroducing the age-old argument in favour of Canadian quarterbacks playing at the next level.

And it seems that coaches and general managers in the CFL are starting to listen.

Home-grown talents have brought an entirely new level of legitimacy to the position and the players are being rewarded accordingly.

Glavic, Faulds and Brannagan have all received invites to try out as quarterbacks at the CFL’s upcoming Evaluation Camp in Toronto, to be held in March. Dunk will try out as a receiver and hope that his virtually unparalleled athleticism will be enough to afford him an opportunity to showcase his skills in the professional ranks. No Canadian quarterbacks attended the 2009 E-Camp.

While an invite to the CFL’s E-Camp is by no means a guaranteed professional job – these Canadians have not even been drafted by a CFL team – it is still a giant step in the right direction for these accomplished and remarkably talented athletes.

Glavic and Faulds arguably have the best chance at moving forward. Glavic, a Pickering native and two-time Hec Crighton trophy winner is six-foot-six with a big arm and the ability to move around and outside the pocket. Faulds is a rifle-armed on-field general with incredible heart and the all-time leading passer in CIS history.

Dunk may be the wildcard.

Blessed with good size, exceptional speed, agility and elusiveness, it’s not out of the question to foresee a future for him at wideout in the CFL, especially given the recent success of Canadian receivers in the league. Mike Morreale, Jason Clermont, Andy Fantuz and Rob Bagg come to mind – yeah, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m kind of a fan.

Regardless of how successful Glavic, Faulds, Brannagan and Dunk are in their respective tryouts, these four student-athletes have done a remarkable job of bringing national relevance to the quarterback position once again.

Now someone just needs to give them a chance.

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