Canadian trying to make transition from college QB to pro receiver

Source: Montreal Gazette

Montreal Gazette

LENNOXVILLE — What were we to make of this? It seemed like a noble gesture two years ago, when the Alouettes signed a pair of Canadian university quarterbacks — Kyle Quinlan and Kyle Graves — inviting both to training camp.

But how could it be viewed as anything more than a publicity stunt? After all, non-imports don’t play quarterback in the Canadian Football League. Predictably, both players eventually were released.

Quinlan, the former McMaster Marauder, went quietly into the night, although he remains on the Als’ suspended list, should he ever decide to play professionally again.

Graves? He resurfaced late last season — as a receiver — and nobody paid much attention. But this year, he appears primed to earn a roster spot with Montreal, believe it or not. And it’s legit.

“His teammates are realizing this isn’t some gimmick. He’s a real project,” general manager Jim Popp said after Monday’s training camp practice at Bishop’s University. “You find ways to get guys like him on the field. Then their real talents come out.”

Through the opening two weeks of camp, Graves has earned attention with his developing skills as a receiver. He rarely has dropped a pass in workouts. And last Saturday, in the Als’ opening exhibition game loss at Hamilton, he caught three passes for 27 yards — including a nifty nine-yard touchdown reception in the corner of the end zone from Alex Brink, Graves beating defensive-back Michael Ricks on the play.

“He made a couple of great catches on that drive,” Brink said following the game. “That catch on the corner was just a great job by him. Being a former quarterback, he’s a smart player. We expect a lot out of him.”

If anyone’s not surprised by Graves’s ascension, it’s Jeff Cummins, a former CFL defensive-lineman and his former university coach at Acadia. It was Cummins who recruited the Barrie, Ont., native out of high school, building the team’s offence around the 6-foot-3, 220 pounder — a dual threat who could run as well as throw.

“We wanted to put an athlete at the quarterback position,” Cummins told The Gazette from Wolfville, N.S. “He was our leading rusher one season. He’s such a good athlete, we designed quarterback runs, sweeps, counters ... like a wildcat package. He was such a good athlete we had to get the ball in his hands as much as we could.

“There was something there we wanted to have at Acadia, and the leader of our program. He literally was the poster-child for our program. His poster still hangs outside my office.”

Graves didn’t begin playing organized football until Grade 10. He also played basketball, baseball and ran track.

Before leaving Acadia, Graves threw for 5,433 career passing yards, third in school history. He was a Hec Crighton nominee in 2011, the Atlantic University Sport most valuable player two consecutive years along with a two-time all-star both as a quarterback and punter.

At one point, Cummins called him the most athletic and versatile university quarterback in the country, due to his arm strength and accuracy.

“He has made a great transition,” Popp said. “It took some real encouragement to even attempt to do it. He was willing. He’s very bright.