Prukop a perfect fit for Blue and Gold

Football in the blood of short-yardage specialist from Texas

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There was a moment earlier in the season when Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive lineman Patrick Neufeld knew Dakota Prukop was a perfect fit for the Blue and Gold.

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There was a moment earlier in the season when Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive lineman Patrick Neufeld knew Dakota Prukop was a perfect fit for the Blue and Gold.

Neufeld, a key part of the Bombers leadership group, now in his eighth season in Winnipeg and 11th in the CFL, watched as Prukop, in his first year with the Bombers, studied the O-line while the group went through their individual drills at practice. Prukop, who signed over the off-season to be the quarterback in charge of short-yardage, had injured himself in Week 1, assigned to the six-game injured list after just one outing.

Prukop had rushed four times for 10 yards and a touchdown in his Bomber debut, factoring into a narrow 19-17 road win over the Ottawa Redblacks. Now, while nursing an ankle injury, he was studying the various nuances of the O-line.

John Woods / The CANADIAN PRESS

Blue Bombers QB Dakota Prukop (centre) runs for the first down against the Saskatchewan Roughriders during the Banjo Bowl.

“He was just taking in what we do, how we communicate. He’s just a constant learner of the game and that goes into the film room and then onto the field,” Neufeld said earlier this week. “He’s a vet, he’s been in the CFL for five seasons now, so he understands what it takes to be a good pro and what it takes to fit into the locker room, and he’s done it seamlessly here. Everyone loves him and trusts him. That’s the biggest thing, is we all trust him.”

Prukop, 28, got his first shot in the CFL with Toronto, in 2017, following a collegiate career at Montana State (2013-15) and one at Oregon, in 2016. He’d spend three seasons with the Argos, winning the Grey Cup his first year, before spending 2021 with the Edmonton Elks.

It’s in Winnipeg, however, with the Bombers, running the short-yardage package and whatever else offensive co-ordinator Buck Pierce throws at him, where he’s blossomed. In seven games this year, the Texas native has 29 carries for 125 yards and five touchdowns.

He’s attempted just two passes, with his only completion being a 10-yard touchdown to Rasheed Bailey early in the third quarter of a 31-29 win over the Calgary Stampeders in Week 12.

“He faked the hand off and then rolled out and hit Rasheed in the end zone and it was, ‘OK, now Dakota is not only out here to run the ball, he can also pass it as well,’” Bombers receiver Nic Demski said. “When Dakota comes out, they’re not just thinking a QB sneak situation, they’re thinking other options. It just makes the defence’s mind scramble a little bit and when you keep defences on edge and off rhythm, it definitely opens up the playbook more and opens up plays more for our offence as well.”

Just looking at his statistics, Prukop doesn’t exactly jump off the page, especially when you consider he’s in the shadow of Zach Collaros, the CFL’s reigning most outstanding player and the main architect of the Bombers back-to-back Grey Cups. Dig a bit deeper and you’ll see a player who combines a love for the game, a freakish level of athleticism few quarterbacks in this league possess, and an arm that can do damage when called upon.

He’s also got speed to burn, capable of breaking the line of scrimmage and hitting the edge for a major gain, and the guts and strength to pound the ball up the middle. In other words, he’s exactly the mold the Bombers are looking for.

“To be able to take a guy like Zach out, who is a pretty dang good football player, you don’t just put a guy in to convert on second down or get positive yards and make the right decision, there’s a lot of trust that goes into that and he’s done a great job with that,” Pierce said.

“We do our homework, and we look across everybody every off-season and not just what they do on tape, but who they are as a person and how they learn, and I was very excited when we did sign him.”

Prukop has become a quick study, and a major asset in a quarterback room that also includes Dru Brown. He might not be Chris Streveler just yet, but he’s having about as much fun.

“This is as happy as I’ve been in a while playing football, and that’s saying a lot because I’m a guy that loves football, I truly do,” Prukop said. “I love practice. I love being in the locker room. I love game-planning each week. But there really is something unique and special about this club and this organization and I’m just so happy to be a part of it.”

Prukop doesn’t have the typical background of a quarterback, even if he did end up going to a NCAA Division I football school, including being named a first-team FCS All-American in his final year at Montana State. In fact, he played safety for much of his early development, before switching to quarterback — a decision he said he made after being frustrated watching his high school team struggle on offence.

As for his commitment to the game, it’s in his blood. Growing up in Austin, it was all about football.

His grandfather, Al, was a quarterback who played at USC in the late 1950s, and then dedicated the next 38 years of his life to coaching, including a stop at Utah State. His father, Tim, was deeply connected to the sport as well, where he was a linebacker at UC Davis, a Division II school, earning All-NCAC Conference honours in his senior year, before also moving onto coaching.

“Football is a very family-oriented and spiritual thing to me. It’s something my family has always connected around and when you get into locker rooms, like this one, where people just truly love the game,” he said. “I see the hours Buck Pierce puts into game plans and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s sleeping up there during the week. Those are the kind of people I can really relate to and the kind I really respect.”

That respect extends to head coach Mike O’Shea, who Prukop said is a big reason the Bombers are so united with one another, boasting a 12-1 mark through 13 games. Winnipeg has also provided a great new football home, which he shares with his wife Blaire.

As for the future, he’s focused on enjoying the moment, week by week, game by game. One rush and throw at a time.

“I’m in a situation where I got an offensive co-ordinator that sees the game in a unique way, which I haven’t experienced before, or at least in a really long time,” Prukop said. “I’m on a team that I really, really want to play hard for and whenever my number is called, I get really excited because I know it’s a chance to produce, I know it’s a chance to contribute. The more my number gets called, the more opportunities, and I’m going to run with them.”

Jeff.Hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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