With his fulsome beard, free-spirited free safety Taylor Loffler of the University of B.C. Thunderbirds needs only a flannel shirt and a pair of work boots to complete the lumberjack look.
It’s a look that suits him, since Loffler loves to cut down opponents.
In UBC’s 34-26 upset victory over the undefeated Calgary Dinos on Saturday in the 79th Hardy Trophy game at McMahon Stadium, Loffler showed his ability to cover wide swaths of turf as a cornerstone of the T-Birds’ defence. He had 11½ tackles — earning Canada West defensive player of the week honours — but none was as devastating as the hit he laid on Dinos’ receiver Denzel Radford. With UBC ahead but with the Dinos threatening to take the lead, Calgary quarterback Andrew Buckley found Radford in stride at the T-Birds’ five-yard line. Suddenly, the Dinos’ receiver was separated violently from the ball by a 6-3, 219-pound heat-seeking missile — Loffler.
The hit registered somewhere on the Richter scale, and radiated up to the press box, where B.C. Lions general manager Wally Buono, player personnel director Neil McEvoy and personnel adviser Geroy Simon were sitting. Their jaws dropped.
“Getting a chance to make a hit like that was really fun,” Loffler said Tuesday. “It gets your blood boiling, especially when you can get one on one of those deep routes over the middle. It really gets the team going, any big play like that.”
It was the spark that ignited the Thunderbirds to their upset over the Dinos, according to head coach Blake Nill. The T-Birds flew east after practice Tuesday, headed for Antigonish, N.S., where they’ll play the St. Francis Xavier X-Men Saturday in the Uteck Bowl. The winner advances to the 51st Vanier Cup a week later in Quebec City.
The Lions are one of nine CFL teams keeping a close eye on Loffler, who is eligible for the 2016 draft and played NCAA Division I football at Boise State before transferring to UBC. Quarterback Michael O’Connor (Penn State) and linebacker Terrell Davis (Arizona State) are among other ’Birds with NCAA chops.
“Loffler brings physical maturity to the program — and experience playing at a high level,” says Nill, who was lured to UBC in December after nine years with the Dinos. “They (NCAA transfers) bring a level of accountability that a lot of Canadian kids haven’t seen before. NCAA football is a multibillion-dollar industry. There’s accountability there that reaches higher than it does in Canada. When these kids come in, they understand that they have to make plays. There’s no room for excuses. Taylor, Michael, Terrell ... you look at Terrell’s effort on the field, it’s quite resounding, too. They’re all leaders.”
The T-Birds, 2-6 in 2014, went 6-2 in Canada West play this season, knocked off nine-time Vanier Cup champion Laval (pre-season) and the No. 1-ranked Dinos (Canada West championship) and are one game away from their first Vanier Cup appearance since 1997.
“It’s definitely a bonus for me (to have gone this far),” Loffler said. “I wanted to come in here — even though this team was 2-6 last year — and help them win. We had a lot of good athletes here already. It’s definitely a good year to be seen with the draft (2016) coming up.”
The first player from Kelowna secondary to be granted an NCAA Division I scholarship in football, Loffler was the B.C. high school most valuable player in 2010, the year Nill, then in Calgary, tried to recruit him for the Dinos.
But his career at Boise State was star-crossed. After tearing his ACL in high school, Loffler revisited the same injury after he joined the Broncos. He missed two full seasons with injuries and was forced to retire after his junior year. He did complete his degree (business administration), however, sitting out a season of football that’s made his first season at UBC.
“Having the year off from football really helped my body,” Loffler acknowledged. “My body feels the best it has since I was in high school.”
Nill thought the not-so-broken, fierce-hitting free safety could be a game-changer for his program. He was right.
Just ask the Dinos.
(Photo caption: UBC Thunderbirds Taylor Loffler against U of Calgary Dinos during CIS Canada West football action Calgary, AB. Photo: RICH LAM , RICH LAM)