As dusk fell over the third day of Bisons football training camp, Jordan Yantz was going through his usual paces, airing out footballs at Investors Group Field.
When the Sunday camp broke for dinner, the head coach waxed poetic.
"He's just so far ahead of the curve," Brian Dobie said, of his starting pivot. "What really elevates him is you've got (throwing and rushing ability) combined with his understanding of the game. It's like having another coach on the field. He's so focused, he's on top of it, he's thinking everything through."
'I like challenges. That's how you become better. Now, this year, I'm just hungry to win'
The one thing Dobie would rather not think about: Whatever happens next, these next few months will be the last amateur dance of Jordan Yantz.
Just one year after he made the jump from Vancouver Island Raiders junior star to CIS standout, the 24-year-old University of Manitoba quarterback is going into his final year of eligibility. Two-and-out, as it were, though the Bisons saw fewer of those than most CIS teams did last season. It's strange, he nodded, to be standing on the brink of it already.
"I try not to think about it as being my last year," Yantz said, his sturdy 6-1 frame folded into a desk in the Bisons meeting room. "Everyone asks me all the time, 'what are you going to do after?' Well, I'm just going to focus on this day, and wake up tomorrow and focus on that day. If we do everything right, and go out with a bang this year, that's what I want to do."
There isn't much that Yantz has left to prove, or that he didn't show last season in his break-out CIS debut. He arrived in Winnipeg as Dobie's most coveted recruit, and didn't disappoint. In eight starts he threw 25 touchdown passes, more than any other CIS pivot, against just six interceptions -- fewer than Bisons coaches expected, in his university debut. He averaged just over 309 passing yards per game and pumped his legs to 396 total rushing yards.
In sum, he broke the Bisons' all-time single-season high for yardage and carried his team to the conference final Hardy Cup. They fell there to the undefeated Calgary Dinos, who marched on to the national final. So if the question is what Yantz has left to show this time out, well, his answer is simple. "Win," he said. "We gotta win. We got to come around, and show everybody that we're not scared to play in Calgary.
"We got to come in there and play a full 60 minutes, and win the football game," he continued. "And win the conference. The thing about winning, is all the personal stuff falls into place. You go out and focus on winning the football game, then all the stats falls into place. If you start focusing on stats, you aren't going to win football games. You worry about that after."
Well, this is Yantz' chance to show he can lead them. The Bisons offence will look a little different this season, as dynamo tailback Anthony Coombs stuck with the Toronto Argonauts. The Bisons have other promising rushers in camp, including Kienan LaFrance, who comported himself nobly when Coombs got hurt last season, and second-year spitfire Alex Christie.
Still, losing Coombs and his 1,015 ground yards -- a CIS-leading 7.8 per carry -- means the Bisons attack could coalesce just a little more around Yantz' arm. Repeat: Just a little, because Dobie knows he's gotta keep defences honest. "We'll see," Dobie said. "We feel we've got a couple of real good backs... Do I see maybe a different ratio? We might throw more this year. But we can't just be a team that launches the ball."
And Yantz is coming back this year a little wiser, a little more seasoned. He spent the whole off-season in Winnipeg, working at a group home and hitting the Bisons workout room hard. When spring rolled around, he joined the Bombers training camp for a stretch, taking a mountain of notes and some reps. Other than the Canadian tag next to his name, Yantz -- a Regina boy -- felt like he fit in.
This is all Yantz knows for certain: This season will stand as his closing argument in a bid for professional consideration. Game on.
"I think that if I was an American guy coming up, and I was the exact same person, I think I would be looked at totally different," he admitted.
"There's a label that we (Canadian quarterbacks) have... But I like challenges. That's how you become better. Now, this year, I'm just hungry to win, and next year if the draft opportunity does come in front of me, I'm going to attack it. Because I'm waiting for that."