August 21, 2013

Moffat: Young Als backups as old school as they come

They’ve been off-season workout partners for three years, one of them never imagining he’d join the other in Canada, much less as teammates with the Montreal Alouettes. 

They ride to work together every morning, the 5:52AM metro through Montreal’s underground to arrive at the office for 6:10, sometimes embarrassed to be wearing the same t-shirts from a QB school back in Texas that reads “Old School Quarterback Camp”. 

They arrive in the wee hours at Olympic Stadium knowing they still won’t beat the grand old school man of the passing game Anthony Calvillo into the film study room.

“Old School Quarterback”

“When I think of ‘old school’ I think of a scrappy quarterback who just does what he has to do to win games”

– Tanner Marsh, QB

They’re combined ages barely surpass AC’s and they’re wise enough to know the difference between saying “old” and “old school.”

Now Josh Neiswander and Tanner Marsh believe they’re as ready as they’ll ever be for #1 and #2 quarterback status in a live-fire regular season game at Molson Stadium.

For the sake of the Als’ season…they’d better be.

“Josh and I are always wearing matching t-shirts from Brad Frazier’s quarterback school in Texas where we train,” says Marsh.

“Tanner’s always copying me wearing those t-shirts, but I like to flash the school colours too,” says the pride of Angelo State, an NCAA D-ll school in San Angelo, Texas. 

As Neiswander makes his first CFL start, just five days after his first emergency relief appearance for Calvillo, Marsh has been told he may get some reps too.

“When I think of ‘old school’ I think of a scrappy quarterback who just does what he has to do to win games,” says the rookie Marsh, who bills himself as “Marsh Madness” on twitter (Neiswander doesn’t tweet.)

“Josh has always been mechanically sound so I’ve always asked him questions and tried to make my mechanics good,” says the former Arkansas Tech QB.  “He was helping me when I was back in college just like he’s helping me now.”

“I watched Neiswander play for two years when I went to West Texas A&M and saw what he could do.”

Neiswander got an invite from the Alouettes after scout Joey Abrams saw him at a college All-Star game following a record-setting career at ASU. Josh had injury trouble there, but after strong workouts had dabbles of interest from several NFL teams.

The NFL lockout was free agent limbo for undrafted players and that would be the Alouettes’ gain.  With uncertainty about an NFL season, Neiswander decided to pack a few changes of clothes for rookie camp and did some online homework about Calvillo and then head coach Marc Trestman.

“I got to learn from the best, and now it’s nice to have my buddy (Tanner) here,” says Neiswander, as clean-cut a QB as the Als have had among the more than two dozen who have tried but failed to take AC’s job since he became the undisputed Montreal starter in 2000.

When asked what he knew about the CFL in general and the Alouettes in particular Neiswander prefaces a response with “I didn’t know much and I don’t mean that to be disrespectful. I was just ignorant of the CFL game to be honest with you.”

“As soon as I got here I understood quickly the coaches are amazing and the players are great, so I have the utmost respect for them.”

The first CFL game he ever saw was the first one he ever played in. That was pre-season 2011. By then he’d already done some web-searches on Calvillo and was stoked to learn from Coach Trestman and Coach  Milanovich (then the Als’ OC).

“That was exciting for me to learn from AC and be around him…him being on the sidelines (in Regina Saturday) was huge for me, he’s been such a role model for me and knows so much more than I do.”

Marsh’s journey from obscurity also defied the odds.  He did four “pro days” hoping to be yet another small D-ll school QB to get a look somewhere…anywhere.  His college coach offered him a chance to return to campus as grad assistant on the fast-track to Marsh’s own coaching career.

Marsh tried out for a number of CFL teams in Dallas, TX, and impressed the Alouettes enough that they invited him to another tryout session in North Carolina.

“I’ll remember the other teams that didn’t pick me up,” says Marsh, a lanky 6-foot-4, caught on this day with a small box of Smarties at his locker, but smart enough not to name team names for fear of fueling any media hype.

GM Jim Popp chuckles at the hurdles Marsh has jumped. He won out over the competition at a mini-rookie camp and what Marsh describes as “another tryout competition after mini-camp.”

Popp signed the kid who wouldn’t go away.

“In pre-season against Toronto he had pressure coming from the blind side, somehow so it coming and spun around back to that side and still had the poise to make the throw,” Popp says reliving the play with enthusiasm.

If Neiswander is a Calvillo-style thinker, admittedly still living at home with Mom and Dad in Winnsboro, Texas during off-season, Marsh is the outside the box and sometimes outside the pocket kind of guy.

One will manage efficiently.  The other can take bold decisions and be rewarded for it.  They may even be wearing the same t-shirt under their jerseys.

“Old School Quarterbacks.”