Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Buck's buff and all-in

QB endures rigorous off-season regimen in attempt to stay healthy and save career

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Winnipeg's Buck Pierce is 25 pounds lighter. He hopes an off-season conditioning program will make him more durable.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Winnipeg's Buck Pierce is 25 pounds lighter. He hopes an off-season conditioning program will make him more durable. Photo Store

Pause to consider the bigger picture of what's in play at Investors Group Field beginning tonight and it's inescapable -- the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and their starting quarterback have both gone all-in on this thing.

The Bombers have wagered nothing less than their entire 2013 CFL season that Buck Pierce will look a lot more like the man who started 16 regular-season games in 2011 and led his team to the Grey Cup than the man who missed most of 2010 and 2012 with a seemingly never-ending string of injuries.

Oh sure, the Bombers coaching staff will tell you these days they believe they have a smart and athletic backup to Pierce in Justin Goltz. They'll tell you how Goltz showed some upside with the way he was able to move the ball in spurts against Hamilton last week. They'll tell you they're comfortable with pressing Goltz into service if Pierce goes down this season.

But that's nonsense. The following might be the truest sentence you have ever read in the 140-year history of this grand newspaper -- the 2013 season will be an unmitigated disaster for the Bombers unless Pierce starts the overwhelming majority of games.

Period. End of discussion.

But here's where things get interesting.

'I want nothing more than to be successful here and for me to be the quarterback of this organization'

-- Buck Pierce

In addition to the Bombers going all-in on Pierce in 2013, Pierce has also gone all-in on himself.

Pierce has wagered nothing less than the future of his entire pro career on an extraordinary and gruelling off-season workout regimen that he is counting on to keep him healthy this season, and allow him to finally realize the tantalizing full potential so many in the CFL have recognized in Pierce over the years, but which he has seldom actually realized.

So what has all-in looked like for Pierce? Well, you see that full-page picture of him in today's Free Press? That body -- 25 pounds leaner than last year and all muscle and sinew and six packs -- was the result of what sounds like nothing less than an agonizing off-season for Pierce.

How much does Pierce want to succeed for Bombers fans? This much. "I've never worked harder. Never. I paid the price," Pierce said this week.

"It was seven days a week, anywhere from five to six hours a day, everyday. Gym, running. I even ran two 10ks in the park in -30 degree weather.

"I want nothing more than to be successful here and for me to be the quarterback of this organization. Nothing more. And what I didn't want to have happen is that if it doesn't work here to have to look back later and wonder, 'If only I'd done this, if only I'd done that. What else could I have sacrificed or done to make myself better.'

"I didn't want to have those questions and so I did everything I could possibly do over the winter to give myself a chance to succeed."

If Pierce doesn't succeed this season, if 2013 looks more like the failed seasons in 2010 and 2012 than the near-miss at glory in 2011?

Well, like I said, Pierce is all-in on this thing just like his team is all-in on him.

And so if Pierce fails this season -- if those gruelling workouts fail to keep Pierce healthy -- then Pierce's career as a professional quarterback will be over and his nine seasons in the CFL will be remembered more for what he didn't achieve than what he did.

Make no mistake, there's no next stop for Pierce as a quarterback after Winnipeg. The Bombers were already Pierce's last chance when the Winnipeg front office decided to take a chance on him back in 2010 after the B.C. Lions gave up on a QB they felt simply could not be counted upon to stay healthy through the rigours of a football season.

And nothing has changed in the interim. Pierce is as tied to the fortunes of the Bombers as the Bombers are tied to the fortunes of Pierce.

But while there seems no question the road will end in Winnipeg for Pierce at some point, what is still very much undecided is when that road will end and what the ending will look like.

Sure, Pierce could be felled by another series of injuries, the Bombers could miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five years and Pierce could retire at the end of the season -- maybe to pursue a coaching career.

But there's also another potential ending for Pierce, one that looks more like the one the quarterback for tonight's visitors is writing.

Because Montreal's 40-year-old Anthony Calvillo, people forget, was also a very late bloomer in his career.

After getting cut by Hamilton and kicking around the sidelines in Montreal for a bit, Calvillo was into his late 20s before he finally really found his game and -- just as importantly -- how to stay healthy en route to a career that has been as spectacular as it has been long-lasting.

All of which is not to say Pierce at 32 is Calvillo in his late 20s or even Calvillo now. It's simply to point out there is another pathway in play here where a resurgent -- and almost completely rebuilt -- Pierce finds his health and his game and goes on to become the long-term quarterbacking solution the Bombers have been looking for, one of those guys like Calvillo or Henry Burris or Ricky Ray who's still playing well into his late-30s.

It's a big gamble, of course, one to which the oddsmakers have attached long odds.

But in the pursuit of a big win, the Bombers and Pierce will push all their chips in at 8 p.m. tonight and go for broke.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 27, 2013 D3

History

Updated on Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 7:29 AM CDT: replaces photo

8:02 AM: adds video

5:24 PM: corrects age of Winnipeg Free Press

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