Canadian QBs aim just for a shot

QB prospect, Bradley Sinopoli from the University of Ottawa, struggles with his last press at the...

QB prospect, Bradley Sinopoli from the University of Ottawa, struggles with his last press at the bench press part of CFL Evaluation Camp in Toronto March 5, 2011. (Mark O'Neill/QMI Agency)

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:14 PM ET

TORONTO - One of them is the best player in Canadian college football and he’s got the trophy to prove it.

The other beat up the bench press like a linebacker-in-training Saturday, has football running through the family genes, and spent his childhood haunting CFL locker rooms.

But while 54 of the biggest and brightest Canada has to offer chased their dreams of professional football at the CFL evaluation camp, Brad Sinopoli and Marc Mueller are chasing ghosts and shadows.

History suggests about 50% of the players here will be selected in next May’s draft. Reality tells the only two Canadian college quarterbacks invited Saturday that they have no chance. The last great Canadian quarterback was Ottawa Rough Rider legend Russ Jackson.

That was more than 40 years ago. So Sinopoli best enjoy the Hec Crighton Award because the closest he’s going to get to becoming another Russ Jackson is that both of them played in Ottawa. Sort of. The trouble is CFL rules mean Sinopoli is likely only to do it for the university Gee-Gees.

Mueller grew up in CFL dressing rooms as Lancaster’s grandson. There is no small chance of following his grandpa to CFL stardom.

“Just to be at this camp is an honour,” said Mueller. “I’ve grown up around the game and it’s nice to be able to show some of the people that little fat kid with donuts in the locker room turned out all right.”

More than just all right.

He led Canada West in passing and was invited to the college all-star game. Likelihood is it all ends after he goes back for his final year with the Regina Rams next autumn.

“I’ll always remember I used to ask my grandfather when he was still alive — ‘I’m a quarterback, what are my chances of playing in the CFL.’ He didn’t even answer he just said: ‘Learn to long-snap kid.’ ”

In other words, only linemen need apply.

It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

We’re taking the ball away from our own kids. Sinopoli is strong-limbed, mobile and this year had the odometer on the Ottawa offence spinning — a school-record 2,756 passing yards.

But short of becoming a receiver, as has been suggested, he’s got nowhere to go as a pro.

“You’re reminded of the realities by a lot of people around here,” Sinopoli said. “But someone has to break through one of these days. I have to believe in my own abilities.”

The problem is getting a CFL team to believe.

Argonauts head coach Jim Barker is a huge proponent of changing the rules that would encourage clubs to give kids like Sinopoli a chance to learn. The club even drafted Canadian Danny Brannagan last year. He even played. But it happens rarely.

Greg Vavra was a three-sport star in high school and is in the Calgary Dinos hall of fame — but he was mostly an after-thought in five brief seasons watching from CFL sidelines.

Teams will give Americans from Dunderhead U a chance to learn as third-stringers but Chris Flynn was born on the wrong side of Buffalo.

“What most Canadian kids need is a chance to develop for a year or two. It would be interesting to see how well we would adjust, what we’d do,” said Sinopoli.

So the kid who took Crestwood High of Peterborough to the Ontario title in 2005 can merely sweat and wonder.

“People label us,” said Sinopoli. “Before people even see you play if you’re a Canadian quarterback they just assume that one day you’ll have to change positions. I think that’s a hard thing to shake. You have to be very skilled to break through that thinking,”

The fact they’re even at this camp is a breakthrough.

“It doesn’t happen a lot,” agreed Sinopoli.

No kidding. They’d rather invite an electronic arm to throw than someone bearing a Canadian passport. Weird considering it’s a “Canadian” league.

Or, supposed to be.

“Two or three years ago they just brought the backups from the Argos over and didn’t even bother inviting any Canadian quarterbacks. I know what the odds are,” said Mueller, who cranked an impressive 14 reps on the bench press.

And, what now? What does it all mean?

Sinopoli figures he’ll be back in Ottawa for one more season; Mueller says even if he’s drafted chances are he’s back for a final hurrah with the Rams “to help them win a Vanier Cup ... that’s always been my goal, to win the Vanier.”

But no Grey Cup.

For Canadian kids who dream of becoming like Damon Allen, or Russ Jackson, or Anthony Calvillo, there’s only one way that ever changes — and the CFL isn’t listening.

Rules, it seems, are rules.

And damn the Sinopoli’s of this world, not to mention Ronnie Lancaster’s grandkid.


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