Western Mustangs quarterback Chris Merchant is set to attend Ticats training camp as part of the CFL internship program for Canadian pivots.
It will be the second CFL training camp for Merchant as he spent 2017 with his hometown Calgary Stampeders and got an inside look at how Bo Levi Mitchell operates.
“Learning how a professional goes about his business helped and what the arm strength needs to be. Bo is a professional each and every day, the other players respect him, they know he’s the guy. I took that away, you have to be a leader each second, everyone is always watching. The way he throws the ball and leads his offence is something special,” Merchant said.
“The Ticats have a couple great quarterbacks and a coaching staff with June Jones as well, so I’m excited to learn from Jeremiah Masoli. I’ll take whatever I can from that camp and get better.”
Coming out of St. Andrews College in 2014, Merchant was the top Canadian quarterback recruit and chose to accept a scholarship from the University of Buffalo over several other NCAA Division I offers. He redshirted for one year and played one game in 2015. Despite a strong spring game performance where he completed 7-of-10 passes for 132 yards, Merchant realized he wasn’t going to be the starter and wanted to find a school with that opportunity. Western University provided that chance. Merchant took over the starting job while developing under Greg Marshall, one-time Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach.
“He’s committed to getting better. He does as much as he can to improve his throwing mechanics and works hard in the weight room,” Marshall said.
“Chris has a high ceiling because he’s coachable, athletic and he wants it. If you want to play at a high level you gotta work and put the time in, Chris is doing that.”
Merchant, Marshall and the Mustangs put together a perfect 12-0 season and capped it off by beating Laval to win the 2017 Vanier Cup championship. Merchant was the MVP of the national title game completing 13-of-20 passes for 276 yards and one touchdown while adding 89 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. Under Merchant’s leadership, Western put up 39 points against a Rouge et Or defence that allowed 9.6 points per game in the regular season.
“He took some huge hits in the Vanier Cup and made throws knowing he was going to take hits,” Marshall said.
“That’s hard to coach, stand in there under the rush and make plays Chris is very good at that.”
After spending parts of three seasons as a bench boss for the Ticats, Marshall has a real up-close perspective on what it takes for a quarterback to succeed in the CFL. The 59-year-old football lifer absolutely believes Merchant can play at the professional level and he knows where the six-foot-three, 209-pound signal caller needs to improve.
“Velocity on the football. Chris has great touch on the ball, makes good decisions, athletic, elusive and not afraid at times to put his head down and get a first down. The biggest thing right now is arm strength. He’s gotten better, more velocity on the football. Chris is getting stronger, but that’s the one area he needs to continue to improve,” Marshall said.
Scouts can see Merchant has the physical traits and intriguing skills to potentially earn a real chance in the pro three-down game. Merchant is bigger than when personnel men last laid eyes on him and his confidence is on the rise.
“The goal has always been to play professional football,” Merchant said. “It’s definitely reachable and obtainable.”