Darian Durant hasn’t had to wait long for his first game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
The veteran quarterback, who spent the first 11 seasons of his career in Regina, will play his first game for the Montreal Alouettes against the Roughriders on Thursday night at Percival Molson Stadium.
Unwanted by Riders coach Chris Jones, the 34-year-old Durant was traded to Montreal for two draft picks on Jan. 13.
As fate would have it, he will face his old team in the opening game of the Canadian Football League season. It adds some drama to a matchup between two teams that missed the playoffs last season.
“I’ve spent my whole career there and I have a lot of great memories,” Durant said Wednesday. “It’s a special ball game, but at the end of the day it’s a game we need, a game that can get us off on the right track and that’s how we’re looking at it.
“Saskatchewan just happens to be our opponent.”
The Alouettes hope Durant’s talent and experience will give them the stability at quarterback they haven’t had since Anthony Calvillo retired in 2013. More than a dozen pivots have taken snaps in recent seasons, including the Roughriders’ new starter Kevin Glenn, who began last season in Montreal but lost the job to the since-departed Rakeem Cato.
Receiver Duron Carter, who was released by Montreal last October after a feud with Cato, and veteran defensive back Jovon Johnson, a surprise cut by the Alouettes last week, are also now in green and white.
Durant, who signed a three-year deal with the Alouettes, was a popular figure in Regina, particularly after leading the Riders to the 2013 Grey Cup on home turf. In Montreal, he can expect more anonymity than in football-mad Saskatchewan.
“I like it for sure,” he said. “Living downtown makes it a little easier because there’s a lot of English going on and I can understand a lot more.
“But it’s a beautiful city. Every time we came out here as visitors it was always fun to walk around and just enjoy the atmosphere. There’s great food. There are plenty of festivals and different things like that going on, In Saskatchewan, where the whole province is all about football, you’re easily recognizable. Here, there’s so much going on it’s easier just to walk around and be yourself.”
But there is pressure. The Alouettes dominated the East Division through the 2000s, but they haven’t won a Grey Cup since 2010.
Montreal missed the playoffs the last two seasons. The latest campaign sparked wholesale changes in the off-season, with several new faces on defence and the offensive line.
There is also a new general manager in Kavis Reed, while Jacques Chapdelaine returns as coach after taking over from Jim Popp last September and going 4-2 down the stretch. Their off-season priority was finding a proven quarterback and that turned out to be Durant.
“Darian is embracing this opportunity,” said Chapdelaine, who is also offensive co-ordinator. “It’s fresh.
“I appreciate what he brings to the table as far as his skill set is concerned. He likes the system. It’s a good match and we’re seeing good things in practice and the meeting room. He’s invested in everything we’re doing. We’re seeing a guy that’s enjoying all this.”
For Montreal’s veterans, having Durant is a relief. He also gives them hope that the bad years are behind them and that they will be a winning team again.
“I don’t think we’ve had the quarterback before,” said defensive end John Bowman. “We had young guys that had abilities that didn’t translate onto the field, or they got hurt at inopportune times and didn’t have time to grow or progress.
“Now we’ve got a seasoned guy who, barring injury, every year is up for (most outstanding player) candidacy. If he remains upright and we do what we need to do on defence to help him out, I don’t see why we can’t be better.”
Injuries are a concern. Durant has not played a full season since 2010. He suffered a season-ending injury in the opening game of 2015, but got into 15 games last season.
He will be without injured receiver Samuel Giguere, who will be replaced by Alex Pierzchalski. Jonathan Mincy will play for injured defensive back Raymon Taylor.
The Riders are without two big pieces on offence _ receiver/kick returner Chad Owens and receiver Rob Bagg. Bagg is expected back next week.