VANCOUVER — Last Saturday, there was a moment when UBC rookie Garrett Rooker showed us all both the kind of quarterback he already is and the kind of leader he is surely set to become.
Rooker, in what may well be one of the best-ever statistical debuts by a ‘Birds freshman quarterback, went 32-of-45 for 372 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception as part of a 44-19 loss in Edmonton against the Alberta Golden Bears.
Now, as the Thunderbirds prepare to face the visiting Saskatchewan Huskies on Friday night (7 p.m., Canada West TV, SaskTel maxTV were available) in its season-opening contest before an expected sell-out crowd of 2,500 at the stadium, it’s pretty clear UBC fans haven’t been the only ones impressed.
“We’ve got a ton of respect for UBC,” Saskatchewan head coach Scott Flory told Varsity Letters on Wednesday in advance of the battle between a pair of 0-1 teams anxious to get a victory.
“And to that young man specifically,” he continued of Rooker, “the one thing that impressed me is that he stood in the pocket and he took a shot and he delivered like a 45-yard bomb down the middle of the field for a touchdown. That is the mark of a quarterback.
“Things like that stand out,” Flory added. “We’ll have our hands full for sure.”
Of course the play Flory is talking about was the second-and-eight snap from the Huskies’ 38-yard line early in the second half.
Rooker took a shotgun snap, dropped back, then delivered a perfect pass, about 43 yards in total through the air, in-between Alberta defensive backs Jayden Dalke and Romeo Nash, to a fellow rookie in receiver Jason Soriano, who was running a perfect crossing route at the top of the end zone.
On the play, Rooker got a helmet to the chest from a charging Golden Bears’ tackle just as he released the ball, all the more impressive as Rooker the Rookie was not only opening up the season after the cancelled 2020 campaign, he was playing his first game since capping his stellar AAAAAA high school career in League City, Texas back in 2019.
🏈 FB | T-Birds Touchdown! Garrett Rooker completes his 1st career TD pass to Jason Soriano, and the 'Birds are right back it in, now trailing Alberta 20-11 after a Ben Kolb field goal.— UBC Thunderbirds (@ubctbirds) September 25, 2021
📺 https://t.co/CKUsNxEjz2 pic.twitter.com/WFowcTRe61
“You get the nerves out of the way, though, and then you start to settle down a bit and so his comfort became a bit more apparent,” said UBC head coach Blake Nill.
“But this week, we face an entirely different opponent and an entirely different set of circumstances and Garrett is going to have to deal with a whole new set of criteria,” added Nill.
Rooker’s first run through the Canada West is further pressurized by the fact that the Canada West season has been shortened to just six games this season, meaning after Saturday’s contest, the team will be one game shy of the campaign’s midway mark.
Growth opportunities, however, must be seized, and perhaps the most intriguing plot-line heading into Friday’s home opener is just how much of the magic Rooker and the group of receivers that he targeted last week — first-years Soriano, and Robert Lutman, second-year Edgerrin Williams and fourth-year veteran Lliam Wishart — continue to build what, coming out of camp, looked like one of the strongest positional groups on the team.
Nill knows the potential is there, but he also knows that his team can’t let up its focus for a second.
“I am certain that the Saskatchewan coaches are saying to themselves, ‘You know what? We have to find ways to create indecision in this kid… to make him feel a little stressed,’” said Nill of what may await Rooker. “I know that is what we, as opposition coaches, are expecting them to do.”
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