METRO VANCOUVER - B.C. Lions have six quarterbacks at their three-day mini-camp camp this week, all of them, whether veteran or rookie, united in one respect: All are American citizens.
But training camp in Kamloops, starting May 31, will get a dash of Canadian flavour when University of B.C. quarterback Michael O’Connor is added to the mix.
The 19-year-old Penn State transfer has accepted a Lions’ invitation to become part of the Canadian Football League’s Canadian Quarterback Development Program, begun in 2012 to partly address the elusive nature of nationals at football’s most key position.
“Yes, it’s very exciting,” said O’Connor, an Ottawa native who spent his final two seasons of high school eligibility playing at elite football schools in the U.S. He was coached by Chris Weinke, now the quarterbacks coach of St. Louis Rams, in his grade 12 year at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
“It was a pleasant surprise to find out I’d have this opportunity,” added O’Connor, who is not eligible to practise with the Thunderbirds until August, because of transfer rules.
University of Manitoba QB Jordan Yantz, then with the junior Vancouver Island Raiders, was the first homebred talent to attend a Lions’ camp under the CQDP, a mentorship arrangement that has been greeted with mixed opinions. Some believe it could contribute to putting Canadian quarterbacks on CFL fields one day. Others view it as mostly window dressing.
“It’s still my No. 1 goal,” O’Connor said. “I won’t say I have given up on the dream of being a professional quarterback (by transferring from an NCAA to a CIS school). I’ve just chosen a different route.”
O’Connor, who has returned to UBC for an offseason conditioning program, also gets a chance to throw at a Lions’ free agent tryout camp in Surrey next Monday.