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A few weeks ago, yours truly began scribbling out a to-do list of Blue Bombers training camp stories, understanding full well the whole thing could be delayed until August or scrapped altogether.
And near the top of that list was a look at the quarterback depth chart topped, of course, by Zach Collaros but with Sean McGuire now pencilled in at No. 2 with the off-season departures of Matt Nichols and Chris Streveler.
Earlier this week, I was leafing through my notebook and came across that list and instantly began lamenting the fact that training camp has been postponed and all those stories shelved.
Then, an idea: Dammit, let’s dial up McGuire and write the story anyway…
“Like everyone else I’ve been really restless lately,” began McGuire in a chat from his off-season base in St. Louis. “And just like everyone else I just want to get back to normal.
“The term I’ve been saying a lot lately is I have that ‘itch.’ You feel it when training camp gets close. Your mood changes. Your workouts change. You start gearing more towards the season and you’re thinking and talking ball every day.
“Then with the news of everything been delayed, it’s tough and it’s a blow. Then you shift and start to prepare for the next stage. That’s where everyone else is right now: what’s the next date?
“All I can do – all everyone can do – is just wait this thing out.”
When the Bombers do get back to work, McGuire will be part of one of the most compelling storylines for a truncated season. More specifically, with the Bombers hitching their wagon to Collaros after he went 4-0 to lead the team to a Grey Cup, the question is this: who is the man who will get the call from the bullpen should the starter go down, just as it happened last year on a couple of occasions?
And why does Bomber management have so much faith in a guy who dressed for every game last year but threw only three passes and ran the ball only three times all season?
“I understand that people don’t know me and don’t know much about me. I don’t blame them. I’m young,” he admitted. “But nobody comes into the league as a seven-eight year veteran. Everybody starts as a rookie and works their way up.
“I want to get back up there and prove myself, for sure. But, more than anything, I’m just chomping at the bit to get back to my teammates and just do my job. I’m going to continue to try and learn from Zach. Last year down the stretch learning from him was unbelievable and our relationship grew a lot. I learned so much from him in a short period of time and even in these Zoom meetings, just being able to pick his brain and hear him communicate and how he dissects things on the field has made me absolutely excited to get back and continue to prove myself to my teammates. I want to continue to earn trust in the locker room with my teammates, that comes first.
“As for what other people might be saying or writing… I don’t really focus on outside noise.”
The Bombers had been tracking McGuire for a while, long before he began to flash his skills at a free agent camp in Florida last spring. He left Western Illinois as the school’s all-time leading passer, not long after setting records during his high school days in Wisconsin.
He arrived in Winnipeg around about this time last year, fresh from mini-camp invitations from the Minnesota Vikings and Miami Dolphins. Over the course of just a few weeks, he was able to beat out veteran Bryan Bennett for the No. 3 QB job behind Nichols and Streveler.
We all know how the rest turned out. In a season in which the Bombers’ QB carousel completely spun off its axis with an injury to Nichols, the up-and-down play of Streveler and the trade for Collaros, McGuire’s role didn’t change. He watched and learned. And he waited. And waited – all of which is a massive adjustment when a guy is used to starting and was the alpha dog in a Western Illinois locker room full of them.
“The big thing for me last year was to come in and just really be myself,” he said. “I treated practices like they were game day. I would go out there and whatever reps I would get I was intense, I was fiery and competitive. That’s just who I am. I think my teammates and coaches got a good taste of that. Although it’s not the same as a game situation, I still treated it like it was game day.
“It was an awesome year for me to grow a ton. As with any rookie that comes in after being a four-year starter in college who was used to playing… it was all about learning and absorbing information from guys like Matt Nichols and Chris. Obviously it was different knowing that you weren’t going to get many snaps, if any at all.”
Let’s pause here with a brief numerical interlude…
Worth noting: this time last year Cody Fajardo had thrown just 68 passes while dressing for 44 games over three years with the Toronto Argonauts and BC Lions. By Week 2 – and following an injury to Collaros – Fajardo was the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ starter; by season’s end he was the CFL West Division’s Most Outstanding Player.
Worth noting again: this time last year Nick Arbuckle had thrown just 25 passes in his first year with the Calgary Stampeders. By Week 3 he replaced an injured Bo Levi Mitchell and helped lead the Stamps to a victory over BC and flashed enough over his starts and spot duty the rest of the year that the Ottawa REDBLACKS traded for him after the season and anointed him as their new No. 1.
So, the point here is this: ‘stuff’ happens in this wacky, goofy league and not every No. 2 man has to have an extensive resumé when the season opens.
And the Sean McGuire eager to get to Bombers camp now is light years ahead of the man we were all first introduced to last spring.
“It’s a world of difference, honestly,” he said. “It’s been cool lately that in the meetings we’ve had so far, for me to know these things before we go into meetings. I have a good base of all the concepts, all the coverages, terminology… when I watch film it’s more review than it is learning. Last year as a rookie I just came in blind and was finding my way around.
“Now I’m so much more prepared. I know what to expect now as far as performing on the field. I’ve had a full year, I’ve worked with (offensive coordinator) Buck (Pierce) for a full year and I’ve been around my teammates for a full year. I’m really excited to get back to build.”
Tap McGuire’s name into the Google-machine and common themes begin to emerge from all of the links: captain, leader, gifted passer, dedicated student of the game.
He gets a bit of that from everyone in his family: his mother Deb, his older brother and sister Ben and Angie. But it’s his dad, Terrence, that instilled the work ethic in him and set the foundation for the characteristics so many football coaches have come to appreciate from the 24-year-old pivot.
“I’ve always looked up to my dad a ton,” said McGuire. “He’s a psychologist and he’s absolutely amazing at what he does. Honestly, he’s the one that should have a story done about him; I’ve always said he should have a movie made about him.
“He’s instilled all the values in me. He grew up having the short end of the stick and could have gone so many routes. I wish I could have known him back then and see how much he had to overcome. Honestly, that still motivates me every day.”
McGuire paused here, and I followed up by asking him about the ‘short end of the stick’ comment and whether he’d like to share some further details.
“Well, I don’t think he’d mind me sharing,” he began. “My dad came from a family of nine. Grew up in Gary, Indiana and had a lot of traumatizing things to deal with growing up. He came home one day when he was a teenager to find his father had committed suicide. It was my dad who found him.
“There were lots of troubles in his family life, and he grew up very, very poor, but he went a different route and went to Marquette and got his degree. He’s instilled a lot of the values I have.
“All of the things he’s gone through have helped give me a different outlook. I remember as a kid saying, ‘Ahh, man… I’m starving.’ He’d always make it a point to say, ‘No, you’re not.’
“You know, it’s really important to me about just being a McGuire. I want to continue to take pride in that and honour that, honour my name.”
The next chapter he hopes to pen, and soon, is how he effectively establishes himself as the Bombers’ No. 2 man behind Collaros.
A name they can trust, a name he can further honour.