It would be reasonable for Michael O’Connor to conclude that his decision to dump four-down football and return home to Canada to sample the three-down variety is so far nothing short of pure genius.
Even before being issued shoulder pads, a few of his new teammates with the UBC Thunderbirds had their own Canadian Tire commercial. He hasn’t had so much as a formal CIS practice and yet the enigmatic Penn State quarterback transfer took part in an evaluation camp for the B.C. Lions on Monday. He’ll throw again during rookie camp for the CFL team in Kamloops at the end of the month.
Surely his first six-figure endorsement deal is only a matter of time.
What is more certain in the future of the chiselled 19-year-old from Ottawa is playing the role of observer at the Lions main training camp for a couple of weeks, starting May 31, and if he has the patience, four or five years of being examined as the next great Canadian quarterback hopeful.
It’s a daunting label of course, as no Canadian QB has started a CFL game since Lions current radio analyst Giulio Caravatta did for B.C. back in 1996.
O’Connor surely knows he can remain with the Lions because the team is asked each year by the league to bring a non-import pivot to camp. It has the appearance of an exercise in patriotism, as O’Connor’s only meaningful act at camp will likely be to perform early-morning coffee runs for veteran colleagues.
But it’s a role O’Connor says he will happily undertake in the hopes that by the time he is eligible for the draft, a CFL team will be willing to give him a legitimate chance once and for all.
“I heard one of my coaches a long time ago say ‘don’t count your reps, make your reps count’,” he said. “One thing I really want to get out of this is getting plays down so I won’t be overwhelmed four or five years from now.”
The league doesn’t mandate a Canadian quarterback, but for three years the Lions brought in junior Jordan Yantz, who barely had a throw. Realizing the Lions were only being politically correct, Yantz eventually enrolled at the University of Manitoba and progressed last season to a point where he might be selected in the May 12 CFL draft.
What the Lions and many CFL teams do at this time of year is put on an invitation camp that amounts to an orientation session for junior players who aren’t always vetted through the myriad of regional camps staged by the league.
“There’s a CFL combine. American kids go to their pro day. Juniors don’t really have a combine; that’s why I put this on, so they have something to experience,” said Lions personnel director Neil McEvoy.
Occasionally, some players rise up through the cracks and make it as an invitee or are given a second chance.
Dylan Roper, a Lions draft pick last season, was back for more Monday. So was Derek Yachison and Anthony Daley, two more B.C. Junior Football Conference products who’ll get to absorb more like O’Connor later this month.
Then there are those who are just supremely committed and will do anything to get noticed.
Most of the football schooling of 26-year-old Tomokazu Sueyoshi has come through playing the game at Waseda University in Tokyo. Attending film school in Vancouver this winter, he managed to get a look in front of the Lions through the help of UBC assistant coach Paul Orazetti.
The running back turned in a 40-yard time of 4.68 seconds, then got on a plane for Montreal where he will attend a regional combine to be staged by the CFL in advance of this weekend’s East-West game for upcoming CIS seniors.
“There are no Asian players in the CFL,” said Sueyoshi, whose exposure to the CFL consists of watching games in cyberspace. “I want to be the first.”
The same can be said of O’Connor for breaking a different mould, who might have had a better chance to play quarterback by staying south of the border but instead chose to bring his solid arm back to a country that doesn’t know what to make of Canadians trying to play his position.
It’s not complete fantasy. Brandon Bridge, a Mississauga, Ont., quarterback who played collegiately at South Alabama, wasn’t taken in the NFL draft but was invited Monday to attend a mini-camp of the Dallas Cowboys this weekend.
O’Connor has plenty of time to examine his career path, which is a good thing because he hasn’t thrown a pass for UBC as yet.
“We’ll see where it goes in four or five years,” said O’Connor, who had onlookers buzzing with the accuracy of his work for 90 minutes Monday, given his age.
If he’s lucky, CFL teams will look at players at his position much differently than they do now.