VANCOUVER — UBC football fans would love it if the Michael O’Connor era could last forever.
Alas, the day will come, whether it’s after this coming season, or the 2019 campaign, when the Vanier Cup-winning quarterback will look to take the next step in his football career.
And that is why the stakes will be so high come fall camp on the Point Grey campus.
That’s when the growing legion of pivots who sit beneath O’Connor on the depth chart will continue to soak up every ounce of knowledge the rising fourth-year quarterback will have to offer in the competition to eventually become the team’s next starter.
And while the 2018 UBC quarterbacking contingent could number as many as six under head coach Blake Nill and new offensive coordinator Stefan Ptaszek, one of the program’s incoming blue-chip recruits is just excited about the opportunity to learn that comes by being at O’Connor’s side.
And if there is even more to be gleaned through the simple act of osmosis, then South Delta Sun Devils’ graduating quarterback Michael Calvert will take some of that mojo as well.
“Back in the summer, he was helping out with Canada Cup stuff, so I had already started to learn from him,” said Calvert, who not only quarterbacked Team Canada, but this past season passed for perhaps more yards and more touchdowns than any pivot in the entire history of B.C.’s top tier.
“Watching his play, watching how quick all of his reads are, those will be some of the biggest things for me,” continued Calvert. “(O’Connor) was a five-star quarterback (coming out IMG Academy) so there is a lot of good information.”
UBC quarterback coach Jay Prepchuk, a star in his playing days with Simon Fraser and a coach with deep high school roots, loves what Calvert can learn from O’Connor.
“He is going to see, first, the tremendous work ethic, but then also the pride that O’Connor takes in working for a degree,” says Prepchuk who was also UBC’s head coach from 1999-2001. “He will see passion and dedication. (O’Connor) is a special mentor for any young man.”
Fans of the high school game in this province will no doubt have special memories of Calvert’s own prodigious talents.
His 2,775 yards and 33 touchdowns for the Sun Devils in the 2017 regular season are the most since at least 2006, with the very strong likelihood that they’re among the best in provincial history.
Recently, among Triple A pivots, the closest have been South Delta’s Lucas Kirk in 2014 (2,647 yards, 32 TDs) and Billy Greene in 2007, the ex-Holy Cross signal-caller (2,421 yards, 27 TDs) who went on to win the Hec Crighton award while leading UBC.
Calvert, in fact, opened last season with the greatest single-game passing performance in B.C. history when he passed for 654 yards and seven touchdowns in an 85-70 loss in Bellingham to Squalicum High.
Nill, over his first three seasons at the helm of the Thunderbirds, has not shied away from putting pure freshmen on the field if their practise performance has demanded it.
Last season’s edition provided a prime example in a player like defensive back Payton LaGrange.
The veteran presence behind O’Connor will include rising second-year Gabe Olivares and rising third-year Cole Meyer.
With perhaps another announcement pending, the youthful part of the depth chart will include the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Calvert, as well as 6-foot-2, 205-pound Ryan Baker of North Vancouver’s B.C. AA champion Windsor Dukes.
And as it pertains to young talent with the potential to see the field as soon as this coming season, even at a position as vital as quarterback, Calvert might be one to buck the odds.
“The thing about Michael (Calvert) is that he is the kind of kid, who in a short yardage role, or some other role, seems capable of taking on some element of responsibility right off the bat,” says Nill.
“When you first look at the tape, his throwing mechanics seem a bit awkward,” the coach continued, “but the ball comes out very quickly and with a lot of power. He makes all of the throws and he is very accurate.”
Consider that at his most voluminous, Calvert attempted 54 passes in loss to Squalicum, and over a season in which is total overall numbers were 3,406 yards and 39 touchdowns, his completion percentage was a jaw-dropping 71 per cent.
Oh, and he also rushed for 918 yards and seven touchdowns this past season.
“His functional skills of speed of release, arm strength and accuracy… they are all there,” says Nill.
As well, there is another part of the equation that the head coach appreciates.
“The other thing is how critical it is to have local quarterbacks in your program because they’re home all year,” he says. “That allows your team to practice with the guys in charge, and from that point of view, in both (Calvert and Baker), we couldn’t be in a better position.”
Good, old-fashioned competition over the next one-to-two seasons will ultimately determine just who claims the next title of QB-1 within a program Michael O’Connor has made one of the most prestigious positions in the nation.
Michael Calvert wants to be that guy, but he knows he’ll have to earn it.
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