- Free Agency
He’s as through-and-through Johnny Canuck as a Tragically Hip tune, an episode of the Beachcombers, a piled-high smoked meat at Schwartz’s or a jaw-scraping-pavement panoramic view of Lake Louise from a balcony at the Chateau.
“I’m a quarterback,’’ protests Andrew Buckley. “Not a Canadian quarterback, so much.
“I mean, my passport is Canadian, obviously . . .
“But the tag – Canadian QB – doesn’t matter anymore. I have a season under my belt. I’m more comfortable. Confident. I’m no different from anybody else.
“I want to play.
“The first year, I’ll admit, there’s a bit of novelty to it. It’s a tag that follows you around. But at some point, you’ve got to shed it and just be another quarterback.
“Whether you’re from Canada, the States or wherever, it doesn’t matter. As long as you can throw the ball and think the game.”
Outside on a crisp, windy Saturday late morning, Fanfest is hotting up at McMahon Stadium. An annual precursor to the opening of training camp in a few weeks time, the intermingling with Calgary Stampeders is the embarkation point for the season ahead.
A season of ambition for Andrew Buckley.
With the offloading of Drew Tate to the Ottawa REDBLACKS on Feb. 21 for a fifth-round pick in the 2018 CFL draft, the door at McMahon Stadium swung open for the right man to stride in and lay claim to second banana.
That Next Great Canadian Quarterback Search has — yes, sigh — been ongoing for awhile now.
Buckley could at least make a strong step in that direction by winning the backup job here. The Calgary-born double Hec Crighton Trophy winner out of the U of C was a lovely story out of camp a year ago.
Nailing down the No. 2 would move the yarn along; take it to an altogether different level.
Quarterbacking options on the roster at present: Buckley; Alva, Okla.’s Mitchell Gale, who has 48 regular-season appearances and two playoff tilts on his CFL resume; Camarillo, Calif.’s Nick Arbuckle, who spent a month on the Stamps’ practice roster last season.
Oh, and Bo. Of course.
Knowing that whoever does slot in behind incumbent star Bo Levi Mitchell isn’t apt to take an abundance of game-snaps is irrelevant. Moving up the pecking order is the aim.
“CFL MOP, for a reason,’’ says Buckley of his immediate role model. “All off-season, I’ve literally been watching (film of) him and studying the offence, all the decisions he made, why he made them.
“Basically just trying to emulate what he does. You can learn so much from him, good leader who just gets it done.”
The ideal example to aspire to is certainly there, in front of him.
“I enjoyed the step Andrew made last year,’’ says GM John Hufnagel. “Now I’m expecting him to better control not only his own presence on the field but also the huddle, and for him to be more consistent in his practice play.
“You have to find out whether or not a player hits a certain point and stops or whether he continues to grow.
“He’s a very intelligent young man. Getting him on the field helped. He’s used to it now.
“What he needs now is time and some good fortune.”
As the No. 3, deployed primarily on short-yardage situations, Buckley accumulated 49 yards on 27 carries. No threat, certainly, to another homebrew, Jerome Messam but he dig manage to finagle his way into end zones on eight occasions in tight situations.
The passing stats – one for two for 13 yards – were naturally somewhat more modest.
“There’s always an adjustment period,’’ says Buckley. “With a year in the offence, I’m comfortable with the terminology and the speed of the game. Meaning I’ll be that much more confident calling plays in the huddle and executing them on the field.
“Any time you really want something in life, you’re a little nervous, right? If I’m not nervous about something, it means I don’t really care.
“I was nervous at camp last year but things went well there.
“Then I sure was nervous running out of the tunnel at the Grey Cup but as soon as I threw that first pass in warm-up, it just felt so good to be there that the anxiety went away.”
Stamps’ QB coach Ryan Dinwiddle, like Hufnagel, was pleased with the progress.
“His game evolved,” says Dinwiddie.“The short-yardage situations helped his comfort level, for sure.
“Physically, he’s just as gifted as any quarterback you’ll find. Just seeing the field, seeing the reads, I think he really got a lot better at that by the end of the year.”
And that whole nationality thing and its attending scrutiny?
“Passports aren’t an issue with me. There is extra pressure, if Andrew wants to put the whole nation of Canada on his shoulders,’’ reasons Dinwiddie. “But, hey, his job is to come here and fight for the No. 2, get better and maybe someday compete for No. 1.
“It starts here, holding onto the No. 3 and maybe moving up a notch. I always tell him: ‘Hey, don’t worry about the pressure that’s added to you. Just do your job and focus on yourself.’
“He’s fighting for a chance to play. Obviously, as the No. 2, you’re one play away from being on the field. That’s what he wants. It’s up to him.”
The incentive is there. The ambition too. And now, a year into the adventure, the opportunity, too.
Whether he’s as Johnny Canuck as a Farley Mowat tale or a Rick Mercer rant remains irrelevant in Andrew Buckley’s mind.
“I’ve worked hard this off-season to be as ready as I can,’’ he says. “I just want to go out there, compete to my maximum and hopefully exceed some expectations.
“The No. 2 job is open. I want it and I’ll do my utmost to get it. That’s what matters.
“Doesn’t matter where I’m from.”