TORONTO -- Darnell Kennedy sat alone behind the long table at SkyDome's Raptor Room in the Renaissance Toronto Hotel yesterday.
It was his first press conference as a pro quarterback, and he could not have looked any more comfortable.
"It's not like I like it or I don't like it," a smiling Kennedy said of the hot seat on which he sat. "It's just different.
"I've been the centre of attention at college, but it's been awhile since a lot of people wanted to talk to me."
All the way back to the Southwestern Athletic Conference's championship game in 2001, when Kennedy led Alabama State against Grambling.
"We lost by a touchdown," he recalled.
His personal performance?
"I did okay. I threw for 300 yards, had three touchdown passes."
The Renegades would be happy if he's two-thirds as good tonight against the Toronto Argonauts when Kennedy -- replacing injured starter Kerry Joseph -- makes his first start since that SWAC final.
Kennedy, who drew comparisons to current Tennessee Titans QB Steve McNair at college, was one of the SWAC's most exciting players. In his senior year as a Hornet, he completed 201-of-346 passes for 33 touchdowns against just 11 interceptions, and rushed for another 467 yards.
But since turning pro, he's been nothing more than an anxious observer.
Prior to stepping in for Joseph last Friday against Winnipeg, Kennedy had stepped on a CFL field in just three regular-season games. In 2002, he was the third stringer with the Calgary Stampeders. Last season, after a July 4 trade for the negotiation rights to QB Jason Gesser, he became the third stringer in Ottawa.
The Renegades promoted him last January, when they dealt backup Romero Miller to the Stamps in a multi-player deal, and now he has the chance to show everyone why.
A strong outing tonight and Kennedy will establish himself as a No. 1 quarterback in waiting. If he produces a dud, there will be questions as to whether he has a legitimate future in this league.
Kennedy, meanwhile, has no illusions about stealing Joseph's job any time soon.
"I don't think I have to prove myself," he said. "I'm the backup, Kerry is the starter. This is Kerry's team. As the No. 2 guy, I have to try and make the offence go as well as he has had it."
And that he is facing such a dominating defence will not be used as any sort of excuse.
"To me, a defence is a defence," he said. "Every defence has its weaknesses. It's my job to go under the lights and find an opening."
Kennedy was asked to describe himself as a quarterback, compared to Joseph.
"Me and Kerry are pretty close," he said. "We're the same type of quarterback, and I think that's an advantage for the team. He runs, I run. He throws, I throw."
Does he run better than Joseph?
"Kerry is 235 pounds," the 190-lb. Kennedy scoffed, probably exaggerating a bit. "I don't think I run better. I think we're pretty much the same."
At least they are both getting their first start against the same team. Joseph's came against the Argos last July 10 at Frank Clair Stadium. With the opportunity, he set a franchise record by throwing for 332 yards in a 34-32 Renegades' win.
Kennedy will have little in common with tonight's other starter, however. Toronto's Damon Allen, who will turn 41 a week from tomorrow, broke into the CFL in 1985. Kennedy was nine years old at the time.
"He's probably the greatest quarterback who ever played this game," Paopao said of Allen.
The coach was asked how long of a leash Kennedy would be wearing tonight. At what point would Paopao consider inserting Brad Banks, should his starter fail to get the job done?
"A great question," said Paopao. "I don't want the quarterback looking behind his head, thinking one mistake and I'm outta here. That's not right. I'd rather say, here's the keys to the car, go for it.
"Like Ronnie Lancaster used to say, 'If you throw five interceptions, I'm going to give you the chance to throw six. If you throw six, I'm going to give you a chance to throw seven.' You gotta be a gunslinger out there. You've got to have confidence in yourself.
"We're going to give him every opportunity to be the guy."