The Promised One: the top 10 candidates to be the next great Canadian quarterback

Graphic courtesy: 3DownNation

For 53 years a nation has waited for a figure once foretold in prophecy.

The Promised One destined to unite football fans from coast to coast: the next great Canadian quarterback.

The title has lain vacant since the retirement of Russ Jackson in 1969, with plenty of false prophets and pretenders falling by the wayside. Finally, in 2022, the myth whispered in stadiums across this country seems closer to reality than ever before.

Next season could bring us a Canadian starting at quarterback in the CFL and another bound for the NFL, but followers of the cult of Jesse Palmer know we’ve been sold false hope before. Fortunately, those closest to achieving the goal aren’t alone in their candidacy.

In anticipation of a historic year for Canadian quarterbacking, I’ve gone deep to find the ten most intriguing candidates to take up the mantle that Jackson left for them. The contenders range from current pros to university stars and high school standouts, but all have at least a chance to do what so many before them never could.

Become a Canadian star at the quarterback position.

1. Nathan Rourke, B.C. Lions (Victoria, B.C.)
Status: projected CFL starter

There’s no surprise as to the player at the top of this list. It’s safe to say the hopes and dreams of CFL fans across the league ride on the shoulders of the B.C. Lions’ 2020 second-round pick, and it’s a pressure that Rourke has rightfully earned as he enters year two as a pro.

A record-setting dual threat QB at the University of Ohio, Rourke became a master of the quick read run-pass option game and was able to punish defences with his never-say-die running style.

Once critiqued for his arm strength, he’s made dramatic strides while working with Vancouver-based kinesiologist Rob Williams and the ball seems to jump off his hand when you see it in person. That’s an equal testament to his work ethic as it is to his athletic ability and the Lions gush about his intelligence and demeanour behind the scenes.

As a rookie, Rourke completed 52-of-82 passes for 754 yards with three touchdowns and five picks, while rushing 18 times for 111 yards and five scores. His performance in the season finale was sensational and he’ll enter 2022 as the unquestioned starter. Right now, the mantle of the next Russ Jackson is his to lose.

2. Tre Ford, University of Waterloo (Niagara Falls, ON)
Status: entering 2022 NFL and CFL Drafts

Nathan Rourke may have been more productive on the ground than Michael Vick over the course of his NCAA career, but it is Waterloo’s Tre Ford that has athletic ability that only a handful of quarterbacks in human history have possessed.

A national caliber track star who clocked 4.45 in the forty at his pro day, Ford averaged 88 yards rushing per game over the course of his career at Waterloo and made a habit of making defenders look foolish. Add in a professional quality arm to that recipe and the result is a player who is likely to become the first Canadian university quarterback to sign an NFL contract since 1982.

Already the first Black quarterback to take home the Hec Crighton Trophy as Canada’s top university player, Ford isn’t done making history. Yet plenty of critics point out his lack of size and wonder if he can read a defence well enough in structure to thrive at the professional level. That’s always been an assessment leveled at players like him, but Ford is at his best when he’s allowed to be his true improvisational self and has upside higher than any other on this list.

3. Christian Veilleux, Penn State University (Ottawa, ON)
Status: redshirt freshman, projected back-up

Standing at six-foot-four, Veilleux has the prototypical height that the first two passers on this list lack and has an early career resume that hints at his ability to surpass them both.

A four-star recruit according to ESPN, he became the first Canadian selected as a finalist for the prestigious Elite 11 quarterback competition before arriving in Happy Valley. In his true freshman year, he worked his way into the backup role and became the first Canadian QB since Jesse Palmer to play meaningful minutes for a Power Five program when he led the Nittany Lions to a victory over Rutgers in relief of starter Sean Clifford.

Veilleux was 15-of-24 passing in that game for 235 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing for 36 yards on ten carries. Still early in his development, he’s got an effortless arm and impressive mobility that could earn him a shot at the NFL one day, but the rocky road to earning Penn State’s starting job means nothing is certain. Clifford has returned for a final season and five-star prospect Drew Allar is nipping at Veilleux’s heels in a crowded QB room, meaning the Canadian will have to give his all to get on the field.

4. Drew Viotto, Walled Lake Western High School (Sault Ste. Marie, ON)
Status: class of 2023, early commit to Eastern Michigan University

Known as the “Canadian Cannon” Viotto has another season to play at his Michigan high school, but already committed to Eastern Michigan University with offers from seven other NCAA FBS programs in his back pocket.

A three-star recruit with a textbook six-foot-four, 220-pound frame, Viotto has great mechanics and delivers the ball with impressive velocity. Efficient with the football and calm with pressure in his face, he could be in the mix to start very early in his NCAA career and likely hasn’t received his last major offer.

5. Kurtis Rourke, University of Ohio (Oakville, ON)
Status: redshirt junior, incumbent starter

Quarterbacking is clearly a family affair for the Rourkes, as the only Canadian currently projected to start in the NCAA’s FBS next season is the younger sibling of the only Canadian projected to start at the professional level.

Developing in the shadow of his generational older brother, Kurtis Rourke never had the same clout as a recruit that Nathan did, but still managed to rise to the starting job at Ohio. He plays the game in a different way, less mobile and with arguably a more natural deep ball than his sibling. However, his ceiling appears lower and he has yet to truly light up the Mid-American Conference.

After fending off a challenge to his job last season, Kurtis will need to take the next step in his development this year to remain as high as he is on this list. If not, other candidates are — quite literally — right behind him.

6. Callum Wither, University of Ohio (Waterloo, ON)
Status: class of 2022, mid-year enrollee

Should the younger Rourke falter, it could be a fellow Canadian who capitalizes. A mid-year enrollee out of Clarkson Football North, Wither is currently one of three passers vying for the Bobcats backup role in spring camp and is the highest ranked quarterback recruit on the roster.

The six-foot-three, 210-pounder is a three-star prospect who throws with tremendous touch and shows the ability to make plays with his legs outside of structure. Some feel that Wither’s development plateaued over his final high school season, but the flip side of that is he’s looked ready to make an impact in the NCAA for quite awhile.

7. Michael O’Connor, B.C. Lions (Orleans, ON)
Status: projected backup 

At one time, O’Connor’s name would have topped this list. ESPN’s sixth-ranked quarterback recruit in 2014 got a scholarship to Penn State, before shocking the university football world by transferring to the University of British Columbia and winning a Vanier Cup in his first season. However, the shine has worn off in recent years.

After failing to stick with the Toronto Argonauts or Calgary Stampeders, a chance to backup Rourke in B.C. could be O’Connor’s last true shot at a CFL job. It will take an incredible set of circumstances in the next few years for O’Connor to reach the Canadian QB pedestal he was once destined for, but his prototypical frame and big arm means it remains a possibility… for now.

8. Evan Hillock, University of Western Ontario (Hamilton, ON)
Status: second year, incumbent starter

Quarterbacking requires more than just physical tools and when it comes to poise and processing, there are few prospects better than Hillock. The Ontario University Athletics conference Rookie of the Year had ice in his veins as he led the Western Mustangs to a Vanier Cup victory as a first year, earning the national title game MVP award.

Hillock still needs development, but he showed an uncommon ability to work his way through progressions in high school and has already proven that the most difficult part of the game at the next level comes naturally to him. His CFL prospects will hinge on how much more the usually run-happy Western offence puts on his plate in the coming years.

9. Jonathan Sénécal, Université de Montréal (Montreal, QC)
Status: second year, incumbent starter

Sénécal was fully committed to the University of Connecticut and on campus when the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a change of heart and a return to his native Montreal. The results speak for themselves, as the lanky first year averaged 255 yards per game for the Carabins.

The former CEGEP MVP at Andre-Grasset has a slight frame that is a concern, but he has a real knack for eluding the rush and making plays outside the pocket. While Sénécal doesn’t throw the world’s prettiest ball, the ability to hit a receiver in stride 50 yards downfield makes up for some aesthetic issues.

10. Eloa Latendresse Regimbald, Collège Vanier (Montreal, QC)
Status: class of 2022 commit to McGill University

No, you aren’t dreaming, I do in fact have a U Sports commit on my list. McGill might as well have won the lottery in signing Latendresse Regimbald, after he ran roughshod over the entire province of Quebec on his way to being named the Division 1 CEGEP MVP.

The starter for Team Canada has more than enough arm, but remains raw as a passer. What sets Latendresse Regimbald’s ceiling so high is his running ability at six-foot-four, 200 pounds. He’s not quite Ford fast, but he’ll make you look silly in the open field and isn’t afraid to run over those stupid enough to get in his way. If the rest of his game can be polished, look out.

Wild Card: J.D. Johnson, University of Michigan (Vancouver, B.C.)
Status: in transfer portal

The son of former Simon Fraser head coach Dave Johnson rose to prominence as the backup to five-star QB recruit Spencer Rattler after his family moved to Arizona and became a coveted three-star prospect in his own right. Johnson was destined to be near the top of this list after committing to Michigan, before being diagnosed with a heart condition that forced him to retire.

After spending two seasons as a student assistant with the Wolverines, Johnson announced in December that he had been given medical clearance to come out of retirement and promptly entered the transfer portal. He has yet to find another NCAA opportunity.

It is impossible to fairly place a player on this list who may never play at the college level, but Johnson deserves a special mention. If he finds a new home, the potential is sky high.

On the cusp: Quincy Vaughn, University of North Dakota / Saint McKenzie, Lamar High School / Jack Zergiotis, Merrimack College / Miguel Camboia, Mobile Christian School / Tristan Aboud, Phillips Exeter Academy / Chad Owens Jr., University of Hawaii / Marcus Reeb, University of Minnesota-Morris / Mike Beaudry, University of Idaho

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.