July 12, 2019

O’Leary: Arbuckle embracing rapid change as starting QB

Larry MacDougal/CFL.ca

Where walkthrough days might have been spent in sweats, sleeping off time zone changes and hanging out with teammates, they’re now a much different animal for Nick Arbuckle.

The Calgary Stampeders quarterback landed in Hamilton with his team on Friday afternoon, about an hour late thanks to delays at Calgary’s airport. A shirt and tie replaced the sweats and another pile of media responsibilities awaited him. On Saturday, the 25-year-old from Oxnard, Cali. will start his second-ever CFL game, filling in for the injured Bo Levi Mitchell.

It was just 14 days ago Saturday that Arbuckle went in to relieve Mitchell and pried a win from the almost clinched jaws of the BC Lions. He followed that up with a 19-22, 262-yard and two-touchdown passing display at Mosaic Stadium in a win over the Riders.

As he emerged from an interview with TSN, he was asked how much things have changed for him in a very short amount of time.

“I would say a lot,” he began.

“I mean, two days ago, my wife and I had a sit down interview.  It was her first time ever doing an interview and she was really excited about that.

“I mean, if you told us, a year ago, maybe a year and a half ago that we’d be in this situation I would have laughed.


“It’s been it’s been great. It’s been what we worked for. It’s been the opportunity that we’ve been praying for and something that I’ve just been training to take advantage of.”

As Arbuckle and his wife, Zakiyyah, told Global Calgary this week, the road to this point — just to get the chance to see meaningful snaps in a pro football game — has been paved with the sweat off both of their backs.

“I was washing dishes in the school cafeteria. And cleaning pools for a pool servicing company. My wife was working three jobs,” Arbuckle explained.

“That way I could work two part-time jobs and still have time to train. It’s crazy, really. And it was a battle. We were just living paycheque to paycheque.

“But we were always happy. We felt blessed to have jobs at that time to be able to live together. And so now it’s just a blessing to be able to do this.”

Arbuckle spent two years at Pierce College in Los Angeles before transferring to Georgia State. He was first-team all-Sun Belt Conference in his senior year in 2015 and set a Sun Belt single-season record with 4,368 yards. His 307 completions and 28 touchdowns were school records.

He had some NFL interest and the Stampeders had an eye on him as well, but the timing wasn’t working out.

“There were a lot more calls when I first came out of college,” he said. “And it didn’t work out for either places (NFL or CFL) that first year and a half.”

The Stamps looked at him twice at mini-camps, but Mitchell was of course the solidified starter and Canadian QB Andrew Buckley was doing a good job as backup. His phone stopped ringing, but Arbuckle kept training. He took the last two classes he needed to get his history degree and he picked up casual work that would be easy to put down if he got a call.


“One of the hard parts about trying to get an opportunity is you really can’t commit yourself to a career. Anybody can call you at any time. And you’ve got to be in a position where you can drop what you’re doing and go. So that’s why I was washing dishes or doing something where…it’s not like I could go into real estate.”

He got the chance to drop everything in the spring of 2018, when the BC Lions invited him out to camp.

“I did well but I guess not well enough,” he said. Shortly after being cut, the Stamps called him back. Buckley had retired to go to medical school. Arbuckle had an in.

When he took the field two weeks back, there were no second-guesses in the huddle. Arbuckle had earned the respect of his teammates over the last year and a half from the sidelines.

“Nick is an extremely hard worker,” Stamps cornerback Tre Roberson said.

“When I tell you extreme hard worker, Nick is probably the first one in the building and the last one to leave the building. That’s the type of person he is. All the things you’re seeing on the field, that’s the hard work he’s put in.”

Stamps coach Dave Dickenson admitted that Arbuckle has exceeded expectations, but only because his play has been exceptional. He’s 28-31 this season for 355 yards and three touchdowns, with zero interceptions.

The odds are that he’ll come back down to Earth at some point while Mitchell rehabs. Dickenson seems to have that in the back of his mind.

“You watch guys, you think certain things, but let’s be honest. He’s young,” Dickenson said.

“The expectation is to just be himself and…put the ball where it should go. Sometimes, even when you get to be a veteran, you start trying to manufacture plays. You try to work your shoulders and look here to make this other throw.

“And sometimes when you’re young, you just trust your eyes and say, ‘No, it’s not there. I’m going to my next read.’

“That’s what he did. He made it a simple game against another tough opponent. It won’t be all smooth sailing, but you’ve got to make more plays than you don’t and you’ve got to hopefully score one more point than they do.”

No matter how much you prep for something, when you get it and you’re enjoying it, it always plays out in fast forward. Arbuckle is trying to be cognizant of that and to try to savour these moments as much as he can. He joked on Friday afternoon about how his wife is giving him a crash course in media training, eliminating the umms and the ahhs from his speech. He’s learning on the fly in some regards, but so far it’s working.

“That’s always been kind of the theme I’ve had in life was to appreciate the things that are happening and the things that I’ve accomplished, the things that we accomplish because I’m always trying to get more and trying to improve. If we win one game or win one championship, we’re trying to get another one.

“There needs to be some room in there for you to enjoy and reflect upon the things you’ve done, as well as still trying to get more. Just trying to trying to make sure that I can enjoy the moment as well as trying to make sure there are more moments to come.”