Gridiron Academy - Trust The Process

The Argos are all in when it comes to their stable of quarterbacks and the team’s stated plan to spread the reps in the season’s final three games.
They’ve seen enough of James Franklin, but not enough exposure has been given the likes of Dakota Prukop and Canadian rookie Michael O’Connor, the two primary beneficiaries of this late-season audition process as the franchise looks forward to next season.
It’s expected McLeod Bethel-Thompson will start this Friday night in Montreal, but he’s not expected to finish, paving the way for Prukop and O’Connor to see playing time.
Prukop joined the Argos in 2017, but it wasn’t until the team’s visit to Edmonton this past July when he finally got meaningful reps under centre.
It arrived when Bethel-Thompson was pulled at halftime as the Argos suffered the team’s first shutout loss in 10 years.
After throwing two interceptions in the second half against the Esks, Prukop was pulled for Bethel-Thompson.
Prukop hasn’t taken a snap since.
O’Connor has never taken a snap at the pro level, but whether it’s as early as Friday night or next week when the Argos close out the home portion of their schedule against Ottawa, he’ll finally get his shot.
O’Connor played well in the pre-season opener against the Als when Montreal came to town for a morning kickoff the same day the Raptors played host to Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
There’s plenty of intrigue surrounding the kid and it goes well beyond his nationality, a designation in three-down football that gets way overblown, especially when it involves the quarterback position.
O’Connor grew up in the suburbs of Ottawa and took the U.S. route before returning to Canada where he led UBC to a national title.
Michael O’Connor is named after his dad’s uncle, who died in a car crash two months before the kid was born.
“He was actually a big supporter of women’s basketball in Ontario,’’ said Michael. “He was big in the community and he won a Vanier Cup, one at the University of Ottawa, one at Queen’s. When we were fortunate enough to win one at UBC, it was kind of special.
“All I hear are great stories about him. I would have loved to have met him, but my aunt still talks about him when I see her. It’s a shame what happened, but, you know, that’s life, I guess.”
O’Connor’s uncle played at linebacker and it’s clear his legacy continues, his spirit very much alive.
The goal for every athlete is to play and the kid will soon get his shot.
“To be honest, I felt by Week 10 I was ready to go,’’ said O’Connor, who wears jersey No. 13. “I will say it took me about half the season for me to find my routine, get comfortable with the offence, get comfortable with what defences are playing, what the week looks like.
“I can say now how I feel much better than I did in Week 1. As a team it has been tough. It’s always tough when you’re struggling to find victories, but give a lot of credit to the guys in this locker room because they have always stuck to it and always came to work like professionals.
“In that sense it makes my job easier when everyone here is working towards one common goal and that’s to get a win.”
O’Connor has dressed as the team’s third stringer.
“Not dressing versus dressing and not playing is like the same thing. I’m going to prepare the same way regardless,’’ continued O’Connor. “I would have loved to get in, but you never know what will happen and you have to be ready for your opportunity when it comes and just keep the faith.”
Head coach Corey Chamblin reiterated how Bethel-Thompson will be the guy at quarterback.
“At some point we’re going to see him this year,’’ said Chamblin of O’Connor. “He has a great demeanor. I don’t want to use the word mellow, but he looks stoic in the way he handles everything.
“He looked good in the pre-season, but the real tell will be under pressure when the real bullets start flying. He has good arm strength and I want to see him under a rush and see how he throws the ball, how he moves around with his legs and how he handles the pocket.
“He’s been around enough weeks and at some point we have to see what he has.”
Offensive co-ordinator Jacques Chapdelaine has been impressed at O’Connor’s mental approach.
“He does prepare very well,’’ he said. “He prepares just like he’d be a starter. He’s got a good mind.
“Obviously what’s missing at this point in time in standing back there and having a bunch of 300 pounders running after him when he’s throwing the ball. And that’s part of the progression with any young quarterback.”
There’s no denying O’Connor’s skills and his high character.
“He’s a quality guy,’’ said Chapdelaine. “He’s very meticulous in his preparation. I give those guys a bit of a home work every week and what he submits is as good as anyone who has been playing in the league for a few years.

Frank Zicarelli

Toronto SUN