Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bombers believe in Willy

Quarterback's quiet leadership, humble confidence becoming contagious

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The Man waited. He didn't grumble. And he certainly didn't whine to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers media-relations staff about having to stand in full gear after a two-hour practice and watch a queue of teammates visit with the press before him.

Yes, there was Drew Willy -- the Bombers' star-in-the-making quarterback -- on Monday, patiently standing a few yards away as Aaron Kelly and then Cory Watson conducted interviews.

While that might seem like no big thing, it most certainly is in pro football. After all, quarterbacks get the diva treatment all across the Canadian Football League, most certainly in the NFL and just about any loop that draws any significant media attention.

But Willy, we've come to learn, would have it no other way. The more you talk to those who know him best, the more you understand he is not the type to put himself above his compadres.

Maybe that sounds corny or cliché, but it's a big part of the Bombers' growing belief in the man behind centre.

"His best quality right now is he knows himself very well," said Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea. "He allows himself to be who he is, he's comfortable with that. He's very comfortable with himself and I've heard him say that before. He knows what he can do, he's confident in his ability.

"People have talked about his quiet leadership. He doesn't ever force things. I don't think he forces leadership or his relationship with his teammates. It just happens to develop in whatever time it takes."

Willy and his first start against his former teammates will be the juiciest subplot when the Grey Cup champion Saskatchewan Roughriders pay a visit to Investors Group Field this Thursday. Not that the first-year starter would fuel any of that during his chat with the media after Day 1 of practice this week. If anything, Willy attempted to downplay the angle, even if it will only be further examined in the days ahead.

He raved about learning under Darian Durant in Saskatchewan and the tutelage of coaches George Cortez, Khari Jones and Bob Dyce. His locker was beside Durant's in the Riders dressing room and watching the veteran pivot handle the pros and cons of working in a football-rabid town was an education that helped prepare him for his time in the spotlight and under the microscope here in Winnipeg.

"We've been really good friends obviously the last couple of years," said Willy of Durant. "We would do a bunch of stuff together when we were in Regina. He's been good to me. I was very excited for him last year, to see the success he had in the playoffs. He's a huge reason why we did win the Grey Cup. I have nothing but respect for him. We'll be friends, even after football ends, whenever that is for both of us.

"We text regularly. It's not always about football, it's just friendly talk. We do help each other out, a lot of times with what we see from other teams. Obviously, we probably won't talk this week but we'll probably say hello before the game and stuff.

"But we love to compete. I know he's a big-time competitor as well. We're just looking to go out there and lead our teams to a victory."

All pretty pedestrian stuff. But when Willy spoke about leaving Regina -- he was readying for the free-agent market this winter when the Bombers made the trade-then-sign deal with the Riders -- his competitive drive was evident.

Asked if he thought about staying with the Riders to be the 1A QB -- and possibly get more spot starts if Durant was injured or if Saskatchewan had clinched a playoff spot -- Willy chewed up and spit out the question as if he was attacking a one-legged cornerback.

"I didn't come to Canada to sit on the bench," he said. "It's one of those things that if you are going to come up to the CFL, you want to play. I don't think anyone in the entire league wants to be on the bench. That's no fun.

"I had a good time being with that great group of guys, coaches and that organization but they all knew that I wanted to play. Darian knew that I wanted to play, too. That's just the competitor in us as quarterbacks. I think if you ask any quarterback, he wants to be out there and throwing it around."

Interestingly, for all the quarterbacks the Bombers have recruited and brought in here over the past few years, it's this kind of stuff -- the quiet leadership meets quiet confidence -- the club might have lucked out on with Willy.

After all, no amount of film study or reference checks can teach them what they've already learned about their new No. 1 in the dying moments of wins over Montreal and Hamilton.

Or while he patiently waited his turn to talk to the press after a Monday practice in August.

"You can't assess those intangibles (watching film)," said O'Shea. "Try as you might, you can force yourself to believe that you see these intangibles, but until you get to know the guy, until you talk to people around him that know him really well, you maybe can't get a real good handle on those sorts of things.

"He knows he can do it. He starts by taking the field (for the late drives) and knowing that he can do it. He can get that done. Then the football part takes over. As he takes the field, his belief in himself, his knowledge that he can get the job done spills over to his teammates. They recognize that he believes they are going to get it done."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 5, 2014 D1

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