Last year about now Evan McCollough was stocking shelves for a big-box grocery outlet.
This year he is the Argonauts' nominee as the CFL rookie of the year. "I was just taking care of my family," said McCollough, who has a one-year-old daughter, not to mention an assortment of "brothers, cousins and family that count on me."
He was all-conference at James Madison University — but coming from a modest program, a football career looked dubious after he was cut by Tampa Bay.
"I never gave up on football," said McCollough. "I was just putting in time until I got another chance."
That came with the Argos in May. He showed enough to get a spot on the practice roster, then one game into the season and an injury to Sammy Joseph later, he dressed and nobody has been able to rip the jersey off him since.
He's been playing alongside veterans Willie Pile, Jordan Younger and Byron Parker which is either going to make a fledgling pro DB feel really inadequate — or, make him learn fast.
McCollough has learned. "I'm catching on but someday I want to know the defence as well as those guys. But to be named the best rookie is a good feeling."
He is tied for the team lead in knocked-down passes (six) and has made 60 defensive tackles — fifth on the team — with one interception. His favourite memory came in pre-season against Montreal.
"We were losing and in that situation you're trying to make plays to make the team," he recalled. Defensive lineman E.J. Kuale ended up with an interception. "We're running and I kept yelling at him, ‘Pitch it back. Pitch it back.' I never really expected he would but he did and I ran down the sideline 60 yards for a touchdown. My first professional touchdown!"
The rookie nomination is gratifying but there's something else happening to prove that he belongs. When he first stepped into the lineup, quarterbacks targeted him. Now? Not so much.
Chances are some department store back home in Washington, D.C., just lost one heck of a candidate for assistant manager.