Andrew Buckley is proof a USports quarterback can make it to the CFL.
Buckley announced his retirement from professional football in May and leaves a lasting legacy. He was the first Canadian university pivot to start a CFL game since Giulio Caravatta in 1996 making 21st-century history and snapping a two-decade-plus drought in the process.
The Calgary native was a fully Canadian born, bred and trained quarterback. He spent his entire football career in Cowtown rising from a high school star at Rundle College, joining the University of Calgary Dinos and being drafted by the Calgary Stampeders. Buckley never left his own province, let alone country, to develop as a pro-calibre signal caller, proving the route for making the CFL as a national quarterback can happen in our home and native land.
After leading Rundle College to back-to-back 3A provincial high school titles Buckley was a highly-sought recruit who choose to stay in the city and attend his hometown university. When Buckley earned the Dinos starting QB job he excelled quickly, winning two straight Hec Crighton trophies as the best player in Canadian university football, setting numerous school and USports records in the process.
That Calgary campus is where Buckley connected with Greg Vavra, the Dinos quarterbacks coach, who followed a similar path: an Alberta high school and University of Calgary star who started his pro career via territorial exemption with the Stampeders. Vavra played five seasons in the CFL and started games as a Canadian quarterback. The passing of knowledge from one Dinos pivot to the next helped Buckley realize what he needed to do in order to make the childhood dream reality.
Despite wearing a Stamps jersey as a young boy, Buckley felt a career in the pro three-down game was a longshot because of his Canadian passport. But that changed when Calgary general manager John Hufnagel used the final pick – eighth round, 62nd overall – in the 2015 CFL draft to choose Buckley.
Fortunately for Buckley, the best quarterback minds in the province and potentially country shared a stadium with the Dinos. Dave Dickenson and Hufnagel brought Buckley to Stamps training camp in 2014. Developing a relationship with Bo Levi Mitchell to see how an elite CFL quarterback operates was beneficial for Buckley. That gave the red-headed QB a full look into the pro lifestyle and what was expected. He took the knowledge back to university applying and putting it to use, approaching the final two years of university as a pro.
When Buckley got to Stamps training camp with a job on the line and no safety net of going back to university he was ready because of the knowledge soaked in by experienced quarterback teachers. By that time Buckley wanted to be seen as a quarterback without a national designation: he wanted to make passports irrelevant and made that happen during training camp.
Buckley was pressed for the backup role behind the 2016 CFL MOP by Mitchell Gale, who had previous starting experience in the CFL, and NFL draft pick Ricky Stanzi. Unfazed, Buckley went out and earned the job. There were no concessions made because Buckley was deemed a national – Dickenson evaluates quarterbacks. Period.
There were talent evaluators around the league that felt Buckley could develop into a No. 1, franchise-type quarterback – he had real potential. Even though Buckley has decided to pursue a new line of work – following in his parents’ footsteps as a doctor – the path he took to playing in the CFL as a Canadian quarterback provides a blueprint and hope for young pivots in the country: you can stay within Canada’s borders and play pro ball.