Mike Reilly was born to run, but in his fifth season with the Edmonton Eskimos, the quarterback with the Methuselah beard has pretty much run out of things to experience.
Reilly has had three coaches and two general managers with the green and gold. He has been booed off the field, along with the rest of the team, in a miserable 2013 campaign, only to don a knee brace two years later and march the Eskimos to a Grey Cup.
He has blown out his knee, blown up his bursa sac, broken his foot, and has been knocked wobbly with a concussive helmet-to-helmet hit.
He has gone from a gun-slinging, free-running risk taker dropping the deep bomb and forcing the ball into tight coverage to a field general in head coach Jason Maas’ up-tempo, no huddle offence, predicated on hot reads and adjustments on the fly.
“I’ve seen pretty much all,” Reilly said after practice at Commonwealth Stadium
“That’s why you appreciate what you have now, because you know what a championship calibre team looks like and you know what one doesn’t look like.
“Right now I know we have a championship calibre team. I say calibre because a lot of stuff has to happen between now and (the Grey Cup).”
The Eskimos offence lit it up last season under Reilly and the tag team receiving duo of Adarius Bowman and Derel Walker
Reilly topped all quarterbacks, throwing for 5,554 yards to go with 28 TD passes against 12 interceptions. Bowman led the CFL in receiving yards (1,761) followed at number two by Walker, who has since left to try out for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the NFL.
Reilly said better things are coming with a year of the Maas offence under their belts.
“With all the great quarterbacks and offences that they’ve had here with Ricky Ray and Warren Moon, we had the highest completion percentage in the history of the Edmonton Eskimos last season,” he said.
“And we watched the tape and we felt like we were way lower (in percentage) than we should have been _ which is crazy but it’s true.”
Bowman said Reilly has always been a leader but in the last two years, particularly under Mass, has become more of a tactician determined to keep the defence off balance and the other offence on the bench.
“It’s all about staying on the field,” said Bowman.
“I remember in Mike’s earlier years it was the big play, you needed something just chucked down the field, but somehow we made it work.”
Off the field, Reilly arrived in Edmonton as a 28-year-old bachelor after three years as a back-up with the B.C. Lions. Now he’s a 32-year-old husband to Emily and, as of last year, first-time father to daughter Brooklyn.
“It’s been life changing,” said Reilly, from Kennewick, Wash.
“There’s a lot of stress in (quarterbacking), but then you get home and get to see your little baby girl smiling, and she couldn’t care less if you threw five touchdowns or five picks. That definitely changes things for you, puts it into perspective.”
Brooklyn has been home in Seattle with Emily during training camp.
“The best part of my day is five-minute FaceTime before she goes to bed,” he said.
And the Rip Van Winkle beard? It may be history later this week when Emily arrives in Edmonton and Reilly makes his case to save the face fuzz.
“I’ll try to barter with her but I don’t know if it’s going to work,” he said.
“I would not be shocked if the next time I step on the field at Commonwealth it’s gone.”