Michael O’Connor is proud to be Canadian, but considers himself ‘just a quarterback’

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym

The CFL has been waiting since the retirement of the legendary Russ Jackson in 1969 to feature a star Canadian quarterback.

Players like Andrew Harris, Kwaku Boateng, and Henoc Muamba have proven that Canadians can be stars at untraditional spots in the modern CFL, but we’ve yet to see that translate to the game’s most important position.

Michael O’Connor is currently competing to become the No. 2 passer in Calgary behind star quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell. He’s proud to be Canadian, but doesn’t want to be viewed through the lens of being a “Canadian quarterback.”

“I definitely think I’m just a quarterback, that’s how I view myself. I don’t really worry about that too much, I’m just focused on trying to make that Calgary Stampeders a better team and that’s my only focus,” said O’Connor in a videoconference.

“I’m definitely proud to be Canadian, there’s no doubt about that. I’m proud to represent this country, but at the end of the day I’m just a quarterback and that’s that.”

O’Connor was a third-round selection of the Toronto Argonauts in the 2019 CFL Draft out of the University of British Columbia. The native of Orleans, Ont. dressed for nine games and saw action late in the season, completing 15-of-25 pass attempts for 173 yards and one touchdown.

His rookie deal expired in February 2021 and he wasted no time inking a one-year free agent contract with the Stamps.

“I learned a lot in Toronto. That was a great experience and I had a great time with the organization, but I felt like Calgary would be a great place to learn the game and work with Coach (Dave) Dickenson and Coach (Marc) Mueller. It was a tough decision, but that’s pro football,” said O’Connor.

“I’m looking forward to being with the Stampeders and competing. Definitely a great experience in Toronto — grateful for my time there, but grateful to be here now.”

Head coach Dave Dickenson doesn’t believe there is a stigma surrounding Canadian quarterbacks. If anything, he believes being a Canadian quarterback is something that should be celebrated.

“I think it’s a positive. If Mike’s our starter, he’s a Canadian starter. If the stigma’s there, it’s in the wrong way from other people because I’m actually the other way — I think it’s a good thing,” said Dickenson.

“There’s absolutely zero reason to discount a Canadian as a quarterback. I think you’ll see more and more coming through the system as it seems like more and more talent is out there. We don’t do it to make a splash or sell more tickets, we do it because the guys can play and we’re happy to have Michael with us.”

Quarterbacks and running backs coach Marc Mueller echoed Dickenson’s sentiments and believes the best passer will always be the one that plays regardless of nationality.

“The best part about the quarterback position is that it doesn’t matter, the best guy plays. If you’re gonna go in there, you have to have not only the other eleven guys believe in you, but every starter — all other 45 guys. It doesn’t matter your nationality or where you’re from, if you can play quarterback and you’re the best guy, you’re going to play,” said Mueller.

“Mike wouldn’t be here if he couldn’t play quarterback. It has nothing to do that he’s from Canada. We have four really good quarterbacks in camp and we’ll let it shake out and the best guy will play.”

Mueller was a standout quarterback with his hometown Regina Rams and signed with the Edmonton Elks as an undrafted free agent in May 2011. He was sent back to school to complete his U Sports eligibility, after which he entered the coaching ranks.

“I think if the guys are good enough, they’re going to get a chance,” he said. “The U Sports game gets better every year — not just at the quarterback position, but at every position. Look at how many guys come in and not only become instant impact rookies in our league but get chances and tryouts down south.”

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.