It’s been a long, winding road for quarterback Nick Arbuckle since leaving college and making it into the pro ranks. It wasn’t always easy for the new Ottawa REDBLACKS starter, but he’s finally found a team that will give him a shot to run the offence full-time.
Arbuckle explained that he had learned about becoming a good teammate through his high school career. After being named the backup in his junior year at Saint Bonaventure High School in California, Arbuckle made the decision to transfer in order to gain a starting spot elsewhere. He lasted eight periods at his new school before calling his dad to return to his original school.
“After second period on my second day at school there, I left class called my dad and I was like ‘I can’t be here like this, this isn’t the program that’s meant for me. Like I can play here but I’m not going to become a better player here. I want to go back to Saint Bonaventure,'” Arbuckle said to OttawaREDBLACKS.com. “I went back to school the next day. And a lot of people don’t even know I transfer they thought like sick or something and I had just missed a couple days of school.
“I was like ‘I’m gonna go, I’ll be back a quarterback and I’ll just commit myself to getting better every day and just be the best teammate I can be.’ And so that’s kind of my first real experience as a backup quarterback, which kind of prepared me for the rest of my career like how to be a good backup.”
After being named the backup again in his senior year, Arbuckle asked to play another position so that he could contribute. He was moved to tight end, marking the third spot that he’d played on the offensive side of the ball, something that he admits helps him under centre.
“I know what it’s like to run a route versus a certain coverage and to feel different zones and to attack liberties of DBs, I know what it’s like to block,” Arbuckle said. “I know what it’s like to take a double team on inside zone and read the linebacker at the next level and outside, you’re trying to reach a defensive end and create an edge. There’s a lot of things that can help communicate that can help me from a quarterback position.”
Arbuckle ended up going to Los Angeles Pierce College to start his post-secondary career, as they were willing to allow him to play quarterback. He ended up winning the starting job and finished with a big game in his first collegiate start
He stuck around for a second year because he wasn’t be scouted as heavily despite a solid freshman campaign. Arbuckle bet on himself and eventually, it worked out, as he made it to the top tier of NCAA football, joining Georgia State in 2014. He’d receive First-Team All-Sunbelt Conference honours in 2015.
He also met his future wife, Zakiyya, during his time at Georgia State.
It wasn’t always easy on the couple, but Arbuckle said they maintained faith that things would work out in the end.
“I know everybody has their own story and a lot of people struggle with their own things but it was such a blessing to have my wife at the time, supporting me because we never lost hope that things were going to be better in the future than they were at that time,” Arbuckle said. “A lot of it had to do with our faith and our faith in God and our relationship with each other.
“That helps bring us out of, you know, the dark times that we were in or troubles that we faced.”
He said that Zakiyya worked three jobs to allow him to train for an eventual shot in the CFL. It finally came when the Calgary Stampeders came calling in 2018. He’s able to work alongside Dave Dickenson and Bo Levi Mitchell the last two seasons.
When his name was called this past year, Arbuckle was ready, helping the Stamps stay afloat in the West Division playoff race while Mitchell was sidelined with an injury.
With the 2018 Most Outstanding Player and Grey Cup MVP firmly entrenched as the starter in Calgary, the 26-year-old Arbuckle was able to explore his opportunities to become a starter in the league.
He landed in the nation’s capital after the Ottawa REDBLACKS acquired his rights from the Stamps in order to sign him before he hit free agency. Arbuckle will try and help turn around the fortunes of an Ottawa squad that finished a league-worst 3-15 in 2019.
The talented pivot was the star addition for the REDBLACKS this off-season. New head coach Paul LaPolice was expected to make a move to land some of his players from Winnipeg, but it didn’t pan out that way for Ottawa. They addressed the defensive side of the ball almost exclusively with their free-agent additions.
Cleyon Laing, Don Unamba and Abdul Kanneh come in to try and help solidify the Ottawa defence in all three levels. Anthony Coombs has been the lone offensive addition to date. He could become a swiss-army knife for the Ottawa attack in LaPolice’s system if he can get back to past form.
However, it’ll be on R.J. Harris to have a big year in the pass game, as both Dominique Rhymes and Caleb Holley departed for BC.
Arbuckle is exactly where he envisioned being in his career at this stage. He’s the starting quarterback for a CFL team, he’s in a city that he personally admitted was his favourite to visit on the road and he’s set to become a father in the coming months. Despite all that, Arbuckle said previously that he “didn’t come this far to come this far,” meaning that he’s not settling for just holding down a starting spot with the REDBLACKS.
“There’s always going to be something that we’re still striving for and there’s always got to be a better future. Hitting a roadblock or adversity now isn’t going to be what stops us,” Arbuckle said. “…I didn’t do all the things and come from where we came from with me and my wife to only get to this point and become a starter. There’s a lot more that I’m building towards and striving towards every single day to become a better player and have a better career.
“I hope that until the day I die, I’m working towards having a better life and creating a better life around me.”