Recently retired CFL quarterback Michael Reilly will have to wait five years to get his bust in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, but the gutsy dual-threat pivot got a taste of richly deserved sports immortality when he was inducted into the Central Washington University Hall of Fame on Saturday.
Reilly quarterbacked the Wildcats football team from 2005 to 2008 and set an NCAA all-division record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass by throwing for a score in all 46 games of his collegiate career. A native of Kennewick, Washington, he finished his time at CWU with a 64 percent completion rate for 12,448 passing yards, 118 touchdowns and 40 interceptions.
As a senior, Reilly was named the 2008 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year and a runner-up for the Harlon Hill Trophy as the most valuable player in Division II after passing for 3,706 yards and 37 touchdowns and six interceptions. That same season, Reilly earned All-America honours from Daktronics, D2Football.com, and Don Hansen’s Football Gazette.
Originally a walk-on at Washington State, Reilly admitted in a Q & A with WildcatSports.com that he never imagined a Hall of Fame enshrinement would await him after transferring to the tiny school in Ellensburg.
“The thought never really crossed my mind. My goal was always to end up playing professional football, but when I started attending Central in 2005 my sole focus was performing well enough to become the starter and doing the things necessary to earn the respect of my teammates so that I could become a leader for our team,” Reilly recalled.
“[Former CWU head coach John Zamberlin] was also always quick to remind me that although they had high expectations for me, I hadn’t done anything yet on the field and needed to prove myself.”
He did more than simply prove himself, joining Jon Kitna on the shortlist of best ever Wildcats quarterbacks. After short stints with four separate NFL franchises, Reilly went on to have an outstanding 12-year career in the CFL with the B.C. Lions and Edmonton Elks. He won Grey Cup championships with both teams, earning Grey Cup MVP honours with Edmonton in 2015 and become the league’s Most Outstanding Player in 2017.
Reilly retired in January as the 14th most productive passer in CFL history. He has finished his career with 34,805 passing yards, 182 touchdowns, 105 interceptions, 3,566 rushing yards, and 56 rushing touchdowns. He threw for over 5,000 yards in three consecutive seasons from 2016 to 2018, a feat that only Doug Flutie and Anthony Calvillo had previously accomplished.
According to Reilly, much of that professional success can be attributed to the lessons he learned while playing for the Wildcats.
“The number one thing that Central taught me when it came to football was that I had to earn everything that I wanted, and that nothing would be given to me based on who I was or where I was from,” he said.
“A lot of great players from big Division I schools would come up to the CFL and thought that they could just coast through and be an all-star and that was rarely the case for them. Coming from CWU and Division II, I had the lunch pail mentality that I needed to prove myself and earn my paycheque every single day and I think that attitude served me well throughout my career.”
While the 37-year-old may marvel at the fact he is old enough to have a spot in any Hall of Fame, you can guarantee Central Washington’s ceremony won’t be the last one Michael Reilly has to attend.