He's come a long way, baby

KEN WIEBE -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

It's hard to believe Anthony Calvillo has been tormenting opposition defences for 13 CFL seasons.

The bad news for anyone trying to contain the Montreal Alouettes quarterback is that Calvillo has no intention of stepping aside in the foreseeable future.

"It's flying by, I'll tell you that," said Calvillo, 33, whose squad takes on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Saturday at Canad Inns Stadium. "When I talk to some of the younger guys and they ask me when I started, they tell me they were in elementary school at the time. The funny thing is I used to do the same thing when I started. It always comes back to you.

"But it's fun. I want to keep playing for a long time. That's one of the main things that motivates me. I want to not only be playing, but being very competitive and being one of the best quarterbacks in this league."

That's currently not up for debate, since Calvillo is always mentioned in any discussion pertaining to the CFL's premier quarterbacks.

OK, so Calvillo wasn't really striking fear into opponents when he broke into the CFL in 1994 with the Las Vegas Posse or during his three mediocre seasons with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

But since joining the Als in 1998, Calvillo underwent a serious transformation that saw him become a touchdown-throwing machine.

Need proof?

Going into this season, Calvillo has thrown 191 of his 248 TD passes with the Red, White and Blue.

In each of the past four seasons, Calvillo has eclipsed 5,000 yards passing (including 6,041 in 2004) and hasn't thrown fewer than 27 TDs (including 37 in 2003).

Conversely, 60 of his 148 interceptions were thrown during his first four seasons in the league, compared to 88 in eight seasons with Montreal.

A big part of the process that doesn't show up in the stats pages was working with veteran quarterback Tracy Ham during the early years in Montreal.

"That's when I started to understand what a winning quarterback is all about -- I learned from him (Ham)," said Calvillo, who now lives in Montreal year-round. "In Hamilton, I had Matt Dunigan for about four weeks but he got injured and his career was over. I was kind of learning on my own and it wasn't very successful.

"The biggest thing was that I watched (Ham) and the respect he got from the players, not only on the field but off the field. He was always prepared on the football field."

Much of that preparation took place while watching film.

"I picked that up from him," said Calvillo, who led the Als to the Grey Cup in 2002 and was the Most Outstanding Player in the game. "He taught me how to study film. You can just go into a room and watch but sometimes you don't know what to look for. We would analyze the defence and explain how to attack it. The biggest thing was trusting what you watch in the film room and carry that over onto the football field. That's always been the toughest part because you set up certain plays based on your film study. If you can do that, you can go a long way."

Calvillo knows how far the league has come since his rookie season, but remains thankful for the failed U.S. expansion experiment.

"Fortunately for me, it did happen because it gave me my opportunity," said Calvillo, the CFL's Most Outstanding Player in 2003. "I can think back to 1996 when the entire league had to take a 25% pay cut because financially things were not going right for the entire league.

"To see that kind of stability right now is maybe something young guys take for granted. It's always a good sign when the league is doing well."

The quarterback is always under the microscope in the CFL and Calvillo has some advice for younger guys, like Blue Bombers QB Kevin Glenn.

"You need to feel comfortable with what you're doing," said Calvillo, who played two seasons at Utah State after attending junior college. "Because if you don't feel comfortable, the guys are going to see it. As a quarterback, you have to go out there and be a leader, whether you like it or not. They are going to feed off of you. You need to have confidence stepping on the football field."

Calvillo's confidence is growing, since adding the responsibility of calling his own plays.

"Before I was studying a whole lot, but now there is another responsibility put on your shoulders ," said Calvillo. "It put my game to a different level. That's one thing I really enjoy, it's helped me over the past few years."

Although the Alouettes rallied to beat the Blue Bombers in Week 1 by a score of 27-17, Calvillo has noticed the improvements Winnipeg has made since.

Calvillo has plenty of respect for new Blue Bombers head coach Doug Berry, who spent the previous seven seasons on the Alouettes coaching staff (as offensive line coach and eventually offensive co-ordinator).

"The one thing I liked about Doug Berry is that he was going to get you ready for every situation possible," said Calvillo. "He was very thorough in everything that he did. There would be certain plays that I would like and he didn't like and it was a battle. He didn't cave in, saying 'OK you like it, so we'll do it.' I had to go out there and debate why the play would work.

"That's a good thing because you don't just want somebody saying yes all the time."

Calvillo wasn't the least bit surprised when Berry got his first opportunity to become a head coach.

"Not at all," said Calvillo. "The fact he's got his opportunity, I believe he's taken full advantage of it. He's got that football team turned around. A lot of people were talking about our offence not doing well against Winnipeg, but I said 'man, that's a good defence and you guys are going to see.'

"You can see they are playing well and it always starts with the head coach. I'm glad to see he's doing well over there."

Berry thoroughly enjoyed working with Calvillo in Montreal as well and believes he's one of the best pivots in the CFL.

Earlier this season, he was asked to compare Calvillo and Edmonton Eskimos QB Ricky Ray.

"That's hard to say," said Berry. "They both throw the ball very well. Anthony, of course, has a special dimension about him that he calls his own game. That may be the only thing that really separates the two. In terms of their athletic abilities, both are very accurate passers, both are good decision-makers, both are agile enough to make a defender miss.

"They're very similar and they're always among the highest-rated passers with Dave (Dickenson of the B.C. Lions)."


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