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July 10, 2019

‘HUNGRY TO SHOW WHAT HE CAN DO’

In Prescott, Yavapai County, Arizona (population: 40,000; elevation: 5,400 ft.; Motto: ‘Welcome to Everybody’s Home’), the ESPN Plus streaming feed had been hooked up to the big-screen TV.

“I’d like to be humble and tell you I was surprised,” says dad Steve Arbuckle, five days later. “Instead, I’ll be perfectly honest.

“I watched him play almost every game through four years of college – two years of junior college and two years at Georgia State. So I saw him play at a very high level, week after week, very consistently.

“So I had a feeling.

“And he had a good night.”

A 37-10 scoreline, 19-for-22 (86.4%) and 262-yards passing, two TDs, no picks kinda night.

There are easier gigs than pinch-hitting for the Stampeders’ reigning MOP Bo Levi Mitchell, of course. On this team, in this league, at this time, that’s comparable to, say, replacing Lizard King Jim Morrison as frontman for the Doors during their heyday, or subbing in for Lionel Messi in your starting XI.

So far, Nick Arbuckle is handling the burden with aplomb.

First that absurdly late, fire-drill, two-touchdown-drive, shocker against the B.C. Lions here at McMahon Stadium a couple weeks back, followed by the decisive takedown at Mosaic Stadium of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in front of the rabid green faithful and that newfangled, hooked-on-caffeine-looking Gainer the Gopher mascot.

Making the story even more amazing is the fact that the start in Regina was Arbuckle’s first of any kind, at any level, since a bowl game in his senior year of college, back in December of 2015.

“It definitely could’ve gone better,” he parries of last week’s showing. “There were three incompletions. A couple throws where I checked down or threw an underneath route and we got a decent gain, but there was somebody downfield that was more open.

“Just making sure that I see the field, going through my progression – but not too quickly – and giving my guys chances to make plays. There’s a lot of things we can do better as an offence.”

 

 

This weekend, the 25-year-old from Oxnard, Calif., makes his second CFL start, in the city of steel, Hamilton, looking to run his, and the Stamps’ win string to three.

“I just want him to build on what he’s been doing,” says Stamps QB coach Ryan Dinwiddie. “Take the same approach. Obviously they’re a defence that give you a ton of looks. Don’t overthink things, play simple football – which is what he did last week.

“One of the things I love about Nick – the stage is not too big for him. He thrives on the big moment.

“I don’t give him a lot of reps. I give ’em all to Bo. So Nick’s taking his mental reps.

“Obviously you don’t expect a guy in his first start to be as efficient as he was. You expect peaks and valleys, right?

“Well, there were a lot of peaks for him. We’re hoping for more of the same this week.”

Down south, up those 5,400 ft. in Prescott, dad will be glued to the streaming ESPN Plus feed.

“It’s exciting,” says Steve. “There is a sense of relief that the opportunity has finally arrived. I feel great for Nick because I know how incredibly hard he works. I know how much he wants to be a starting quarterback and that’s how he views himself, though he’s a team guy and he understands the situation there in Calgary, that he’s behind an absolutely top-notch, superstar quarterback.

“I feel bad for Bo. But as Nick pointed out in his interview – it’s still Bo’s team. What Nick’s going to do is work as hard as he can and try to win as many games as possible before Bo returns.

“But I am happy for Nick because I know he’s hungry to show what he can do.”

Although Steve played linebacker through high-school, you could say Nick comes from a family of QBs. Two older brothers Eric and Jared (“I don’t know where all this quarterbacking came from,’’ jokes dad. “It’s still a mystery to me”) operated under centre during their football days, inspiring Nick to take up the position.

When Arbuckle was 15 and a freshman in high school, he and the family were rocked by the death, in her sleep, of mom Michelle.

“At that time,” he recalls, “it was just me and my dad living at our house. My brothers were away, one working as a firefighter, the other in Afghanistan as a marine, another in Montana going to college.

“That was really hard.

“It brought me and my dad closer. Made our relationship even tighter. He was always a great dad but we had to get through that together.

“Looking back, it sparked everything that’s led to where I am now.

“I found my work ethic when it happened because I needed something to escape the pain and the thought of what was going on. So I kinda just buried myself in pushing myself to work as hard as I could, 24/7, just to keep from going to sleep and thinking what happened.

“I fell in love with the process of that at the same time.

“I vowed to every day make her proud of what I did, and that with her watching up above, that everything I did, the person I am, is something she’d approve of.”

 

 

With a vested interest, Steve Arbuckle watches every CFL game, not just the ones involving his boy, these days.

“Thursday, Friday, Saturday. It’s high-calibre. These are outstanding athletes. There’s action. Hitting. I love it. I think it’s great football.”
Steve attended one of Nick’s games a year ago, the regular-season closer at B.C. Place.

“We knew Nick wasn’t going to get into the game much,” acknowledges dad. “A handful of times. He was – and still is, I guess – the short-yardage quarterback. But we enjoyed the experience.”

Next Thursday’s home date versus the Toronto Argonauts will mark Steve’s first trip to Calgary, to see where his son has resurrected his pro ambitions.

“It means so much,” emphasizes Arbuckle of the impending visit. “When I went to college, Georgia State in Atlanta, my dad was living in California. We didn’t have a lot of money, so during that time I think he saw me play only two games in person.

“So the past six, seven years he hasn’t seen me on the field a lot live. Now that I have the opportunity to play and we’re in a better financial situation to be able to afford to bring him up here, means the world to me.

“My first year playing quarterback, eighth grade, he was my first offensive co-ordinator. I’d been a lineman until then. He came out of retirement just to coach me.

“So for him to be here, to have him see me be able to live out the dream of playing professional football and actually being on the field is … huge.

“He always believed in me, even in some of the dark times when I was starting, all the way through high school. He never stopped believing.

“I can’t wait for him to get here.”