Maas 'a true warrior'

Jason Maas played behind college star Akili Smith at the University of Oregon. (Edmonton Sun/Darryl...

Jason Maas played behind college star Akili Smith at the University of Oregon. (Edmonton Sun/Darryl Dyck)

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:45 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- A great story has no bounds -- and Jason Maas's latest comeback tale is no exception.

By mid-morning yesterday, word of Maas's game-winning touchdown drive in the CFL West final had already spread to his high school in Yuma, Arizona.

Principal Jeff Magin -- Maas's old basketball coach at Yuma High -- had watched highlights Sunday night of his former student leading the Edmonton Eskimos to victory at B.C. Place.

And news of the backup's clutch performance against the B.C. Lions had also reached the athletic department at the University of Oregon -- Maas's old stomping grounds in Eugene -- by lunch hour yesterday.

Understandably, his old coaches -- especially former Yuma High football coach Curt Weber -- are thrilled.

But they're not surprised about the comeback.

To them, that's par for the course.

Even word of Maas's obscenity-laced discussion with his offensive line and receivers before leading the Eskimos to a 28-23 victory Sunday night wasn't a shock to Weber, as he had been on the other end of one of those talks 12 years ago.

SO FIRED UP

"We were playing in a very critical game in Phoenix," remembered Weber.

"We had a third down on our 49-yard line and we came up a half of a yard short, so I sent the punt team out.

"We were losing 7-0 and Maas came to the bench and said: 'What the hell are you doing? I can get this (fourth-down conversion).' "

Maas was so fired up and angry he convinced his coach to call a time-out to get the punt team off the field.

Maas got the first down, tossed a 52-yard TD bomb two plays later and forced his coach to his knees.

"I had to go behind the bench and I had to barf," said Weber, realizing he had almost made the wrong call that could have cost him the game. "I was on one knee dry heaving.

"It was extremely emotional (when Maas demanded to go back on the field) and it got the best of me."

The Yuma Criminals won the game 17-14.

Mike Bellotti, the University of Oregon football coach, has his own stories of Maas helping deliver a comeback victory.

"There was a game against Fresno State in Oregon and we beat them in overtime," said Bellotti, who brought Maas off the bench.

"Fresno State was a zone team and Jason was a great pocket passer who dissected zone defences."

MANY PARALLELS

That was 1997, a year that has many parallels to this year.

He played behind an established star -- college wonder Akili Smith, who was eventually chosen third overall in the NFL draft.

"Jason filled that (relief) role for us, whether it was a series, just a play or sometimes a quarter," said Bellotti.

"He had a big desire to be good. I have a great deal of respect for Jason Maas."

Weber has so much respect for Maas -- on and off the field -- that he uses his story to teach lessons to his students today.

"I recognize a true warrior when I see one and I try to pass on his characteristics to kids," said Weber.

Maas lost his father at the age of 10 when he was shot to death while on police duty in Yuma.

"The role model of his life was taken from him," continued Weber.

"Jason had tremendous guidance from his mother and learned a work ethic. And it's that work ethic that has really been instrumental in his success."

Maas has also been taught to be humble and accept praise graciously.

"I come from a small area and it's neat that people still think about me," he said.

Who knows, by next week a Grey Cup success story might be making the rounds in Yuma and Oregon.


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