Nathan Rourke, Tre Ford make pro football ‘much more realistic’ for Laval University QB Arnaud Desjardins

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Laval University quarterback Arnaud Desjardins has been watching Nathan Rourke and Tre Ford earn opportunities in the CFL and NFL, which makes him believe it’s possible for him to play at those levels in his football career.

Desjardins led the Rouge et Or to a Vanier Cup championship in the same year that Rourke lit up the three-down league and earned a contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars, while Ford was the first Canadian QB selected in the first round of the CFL Draft since 1980.

“They gave us a lot of hope. It was crazy to see Nathan play last year. He was the best player on the field every time he stepped on it. He gives us hope and makes it seem much more realistic. It was so exciting and a lot of fun to watch him,” Desjardins said.

“Tre being a first-rounder coming out of U Sports is unbelievable, it’s very positive. I followed him when he was playing, he’s a great athlete. It gives us an opportunity in the future to dream about it. Hopefully, I’ll be like those guys in the future.”

The 23-year-old Desjardins was named a first-team All-Canadian after the 2022 U Sports campaign. He led the country with 20 passing touchdowns in eight regular-season games while being intercepted four times and completed 73 percent of his passes for 2,555 yards. The Montreal native went 27-of-36 for 396 passing yards in Laval’s 30-24 win over the University of Saskatchewan in the national championship.

“I still have a lot of things to develop, but eventually I think I can have my shot in this league. Not many have done it but it’s time to go play against other quarterbacks in the CFL. I wish I can be that guy in the future,” Desjardins said.

“I know I got a lot of work to do, but hopefully I’ll be ready to play against all these guys. That’s been my dream since I started playing, I always wanted to run a CFL offence — I see myself running it in a couple years.”

After accepting an invite, Desjardins attended the 2023 CFL Combine in Edmonton, Alta. as an underclassman, still two years away from being eligible to be selected in the CFL Draft. Saskatchewan Roughriders’ offensive coordinator Kelly Jeffrey was the quarterback coach for the week in the Alberta capital.

“I was really impressed: strong, big arm, tall, very smart — he’s a heckuva quarterback. I think he’s got a lot of those characteristics to be a quarterback at this level,” Jeffrey said about Desjardins CFL potential.

“I really didn’t have anything that I saw that was a glaring hole and really that’s what you want. Are you pretty dang good at almost everything? And he was, I really liked him. I would think sky’s the limit. He’s been really well coached, you can tell.”

The Canadian University quarterback internship program has Desjardins going to Winnipeg Blue Bombers training camp in May. He met head coach Mike O’Shea while at the league’s Combine and views the opportunity to learn there as a totally different experience compared to anything else so far in his playing days.

“I’m going to see a lot in Winnipeg, get into a system, get into a locker room, so that’s going to be fun,” Desjardins said.

Look for Desjardins to be wearing his favourite No. 12 while with the blue and gold. He wears that number in honour of his favourite quarterback, Tom Brady, who has won seven Super Bowls. Both passers are similar in stature, size and build, plus being ultra-competitive.

“He’s my hero. His work ethic, attitude, edge, and chip on his shoulder and he’s a winner, who doesn’t love a winner? That’s my thing, I love to win. He’s won a lot,” he said.

Desjardins wants multiple Vanier Cup rings just like Brady has Super Bowl rings. Winning back-to-back national championships is the objective for the Rouge et Or. Laval was the last program to claim two straight Vanier Cups in 2012 and 2013.

“I feel like we have a great chance of doing that. We’ve got a stacked team, a lot of players are coming back,” Desjardins said.

Between his first and second year, Desjardins added 10 pounds of muscle while also adding eight pounds already this offseason. He currently weighs approximately 215 pounds and his actual height has been measured at six-foot-four and three-quarters. That’s prototypical size for the pro game south of the border.

“I feel like it’s a big step. It would be a dream to have an NFL opportunity,” he said.

Desjardins believes his No. 1 receiver with the Rouge et Or, Kevin Mital should garner NFL interest. Mital made 58 receptions for 751 yards and 12 touchdowns this past season to win the Hec Crighton Trophy, becoming the first receiver to earn the award since Andy Fantuz in 2005. He made another 27 catches for 371 yards and five touchdowns over four playoff games to help Laval capture the Vanier Cup for the first time since 2018.

“I’m hoping Kevin can get an NFL opportunity. If not him, who is going to do it? He’s done it all. He’s an incredible receiver. I hope he can do it,” Desjardins said. “He’s a good teammate, he wants the ball, he wants to win; he’s a competitive guy — he wants to win as much as anybody and he’s willing to put in the work to get it done.”

Mital’s primary goal is to make the NFL, though he has indicated that he would be happy to play in the CFL if he were unable to catch on south of the border. He wanted to return to Laval to finish his business degree. That gives Desjardins the best target in the country to throw to for at least one more season, which could help both players boost attention from pro scouts.

“Laval is the best. Our offensive system is very good, it’s pro-style,” Desjardins said. “When it’s my turn, I’m going to be ready for sure.”

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.