Logan Kilgore has quarterbacking in his DNA; A strong arm. Scrambling feet. And an analytical mind that has been boosted with knowledge gleaned from an impressive number of maestros of the gridiron.
Four of them are all-time NFL stars and a fifth is an all-timer, himself, in the great northern league we call the CFL.
When Kilgore leads the Edmonton Eskimos onto the field against the Hamilton Ticats as their starter in Week 15, he’ll have all of those lessons on his side as he attempts to be the next understudy to rise to the occasion in a season where those who have previously toiled behind the scenes, awaiting their chance, have shone when they got it.
Three Mannings have enriched Kilgore’s quarterback database; Archie, Eli and Peyton. Drew Brees has done so as well. And so has the man whom the Eskies will honour with a Wall of Honour induction on Friday night, Ricky Ray.
“Ricky; very dry humour, very reserved,” says Kilgore, sizing up his mentors after practice this week. “Eli; a little more outgoing but still pretty dry. Peyton; hilarious, except when you start talkin’ business, then he’s ultra laser focused. Drew, I think, is an incredible blend of all of ‘em.”
Kilgore, the 29-year-old native of Rocklin, California, is nearing his first CFL start in more than three years. Just a few days beforehand, he took some time to discuss the lessons he’s learned from not only the four previously mentioned all-stars, but from his current teammate, the injured Trevor Harris.
“You just try to be a sponge,” says Kilgore, championing the belief that listening intently is the path to bettering yourself. “You never want to be the smartest guy in the room. If you can surround yourself with guys that are a lot more intelligent than you, and if you’re always open to learning something, then, shoot, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Kilgore got to know Brees, the NFL’s all-time passing yardage leader, when he was trying out for the New Orleans Saints in 2014. The two remained in touch after Kilgore was released, and they continued to work out together during the off-season whenever possible.
“I loved my time down in New Orleans and learned so much in such a quick amount of time,” says Kilgore of that summer. “Just to watch him (Brees) on a day to day basis was incredible. It was very special.”
If there was one thing in particular that Kilgore believes he took from Brees during that time, it was a lesson in how to be a true leader.
“I saw him take blame for things that weren’t his fault,” Kilgore marvels. “I saw him lead by example in conditioning drills and other things.”
He also remembers Brees’ ability to stay as evenly mannered as possible, which would be a foreshadowing of the type of thing Kilgore would witness when he landed in Toronto in 2015.
“The same with Ricky,” he says. “Never too high, never too low.”
As a newcomer to the CFL, Kilgore found out quickly that there was a lot that he didn’t know. With Ray missing most of that season with a nagging shoulder injury, the veteran had time to teach him as Kilgore’s current teammate and the man he is now subbing in for, Trevor Harris, was making his initial ascent as a CFL starter while he, too, was an Argo.
“It was easy just to pick his brain,” says Kilgore of the cooperative Ray. “I feel like my questions went from being elementary and then starting to increase in difficulty.”
Getting first hand lessons from both Ray and Brees really stuck with Kilgore, and he was appreciative of the opportunity to learn from a couple of pro football’s master craftsmen.
“I saw them in camp, day to day, preparing themselves to play a season,” he says.
Kilgore’s association with the Mannings began when he was first a quarterback with Bakersfield, and then Middle Tennessee. He was invited to Archie’s summer camp for quarterbacks as a guest instructor, one of a couple dozen or so university QBs to be asked to share their experience and advice to an even younger generation of pivots. Kilgore returned two more times as a player, until his CFL schedule came into conflict with the summertime event.
He was back again, though, when he found himself out of a quarterbacking job in 2018, taking up a position with his alma mater in Bakersfield, as the Renegades’ Quarterbacks Coach.
“I was able to pick Peyton and Eli’s brains as much as I could,” says Kilgore of his connections with the two Super Bowl champions over the years.
“It was great to learn some subtle tips on how to really decipher defences. How to watch film, how to prepare. From two of the best to do it.”
If Kilgore’s relationship with the younger Mannings was more casual and transitory, his relationship with Archie – the great Saints’ quarterback of the 1970’s who impressed with his resiliency while playing on some poor teams – has been ongoing.
“Archie’s always been a mentor for me since then,” says Kilgore. “I talk to him quite often and I really respect his opinion on different things from football and outside of football.”
Aside from the lessons sopped up from the five greats, Kilgore has gotten a few from the greatest teacher of them all; life itself.
“There’s no substitute for experience,” he says, reflecting on the elation of starting and winning his first CFL game as an Argo back in 2016, only to be discarded by the team after he’d finished that season throwing ten interceptions in seven games. He was signed by the Ticats in 2017, but released just a few months later.
Then, Kilgore was off the field completely. That’s when he returned to Bakersfield to coach.
“Learned a ton out there,” he says of his year of coaching in California. “I definitely feel different.”
“We speak the same language on a lot of things. It’s very easy to communicate on the sideline, both ways.”
Kilgore on Trevor Harris
Kilgore’s latest chapter got off to a pretty good start two weeks ago, although the Eskimos lost to the Calgary Stampeders at The Brick Field.
He went 21-for-28 in the passing department, totalling 242 yards – with one interception – in three quarters of work.
Preparing all week to be this week’s starter, even though it wasn’t clear at all that he would be until Thursday, Kilgore is optimistic that he’s ready to take a step forward.
“You see the biggest jump from the first to the second season,” he says, explaining that he considers 2016 as his first and 2019 as his second, since he saw zero action for Hamilton in 2017 and none for anybody last year.
Then, after a pause, he buttons the conversation with an old chestnut.
“Still gotta go out and execute.”
After distilling all of the lessons learned from five of the masters, and those forced on him by the hard knocks of pro football’s rocky trail, there is still that.
KILGORE PUTS HIS SUPERSTITIONS ASIDE
Harris has been helpful to his understudy as this season has unfolded, and has emerged as a leader in his own right, as confirmed by Kilgore.
“I can definitely tell a difference in his overall outlook, his maturity,” says Kilgore, comparing him to the player he knew in Toronto before offering that Harris is “one of the hardest workers I’ve ever been around.”
“We speak the same language on a lot of things,” adds Kilgore. “It’s very easy to communicate on the sideline, both ways.”
And, it turns out, Harris was able to teach his teammate something that none of the Mannings, or Ray, or Brees did.
“My entire career, my entire life, I’ve always been superstitious,” says Kilgore. “I’ve always put my pads on the same way. Just weird little things like that.”
A conversation with Harris, earlier this year, has tempered Kilgore’s beliefs in good luck charms.
“He’s like ‘you’re right. It’s not the years of preparation, it’s not all the hard work you put in, it’s not all the blood, sweat and tears we’ve sacrificed. It’s not the film we watched. You’re right, it’s because you tied your right shoe before your left that you completed that ball.’ And I thought that was a funny perspective,” says Kilgore, “but very true.”
Not that Kilgore is completely cured of his old habits. He trots out a reference from the TV show “The Office” as he explains.
“To quote the great Michael Scott, I’d say I’m not superstitious but I am a little stitious,” he laughs.
As far as the number 15 being a talisman of some kind, Kilgore seems to be heeding Harris’ words.
“I’m very honoured to be potentially playing on a night where they’re honouring Ricky and wearing his number,” he says.
“But I don’t think that anybody from Hamilton’s gonna care and I don’t think it’s gonna count for any completions or anything like that.”