Mississauga’s Brandon Bridge is hoping to become a full-time starting quarterback in the Canadian Football League, even though Canadians have traditionally not been given that opportunity on a regular basis.
In early August, the 25-year-old who played high school football as St. Marcellinus, had risen to second on the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ quarterback depth chart.
It’s an accomplishment for Bridge, who attended Alcorn State University, where he became known as Air Canada, a reference to his nationality and running ability, and Steve (Air) McNair, who graduated from that school and became a starter in the National Football League.
Bridge subsequently transferred to the University of South Carolina and became one of the top quarterbacks in the National Collegiate Athletic Association in his senior year, only to be sidelined with an injury.
He attended the Dallas Cowboys training camp and began his pro career with the Montreal Alouettes, who drafted him in the fourth round in 2015. He made history when he started in the team’s final regular-season game, taking advantage of the opportunity rarely given to Canadian quarterbacks, and threw the first two touchdowns of his pro career.
He was released following a contract dispute after the first six games of the 2016 season and was signed by Saskatchewan.
He was given a chance to get some playing in the team’s sixth game in early August, when starter Kevin Glenn was struggling. Bridge completed eight of 10 passes for 124 yards and threw two touchdowns.
“I think I’ve handled myself professionally, taken the best of my opportunities,” he says. “Being the (backup), you’re only one play away, one injury away, so you’ve always got to prepare yourself to be a starter because sometimes you may have to come in and play in a series (if the starter is injured). That’s the thing about a backup: You never know when the chance will be. But whatever it is, you’ve got to make the most of your opportunity.”
He recalled the game he started as a rookie and how much attention he received becoming the first Canadian to start at quarterback in the CFL since 1996.
“At first I didn’t know anything about it,” he says. “That week of preparation, there were a lot of news reporters were telling me how historical this day is going to be. I didn’t understand it at first. As the week got closer to game day, I was like I’m going to show I’m not an average Canadian or I’m not the stereotype of a Canadian quarterback – that I’m just a guy that can (play). American, Canadian, black, white, it doesn’t matter what my skin tone is or what my passport says. I’m just a football player. For me, I just remain ready and make the best of my opportunity, one play or not. I feel I bring a special athletic ability that the game hasn’t seen really seen in a very long time (in the CFL). I feel like I carry a pinch of everyone’s game plan (who played quarterback in the CFL). There’s not many quarterbacks you see jumping over people or carrying out these long runs or outrunning linebackers. I feel that’s where I differentiate myself from the other pack of (Canadian) quarterbacks.”
Playing in Regina, where football players are revered by the rabid Rider Nation, Bridge is enjoying the surroundings.
“It’s really a football-happy kind of town,” he says.
He feels he is a fast learner, despite his limited playing time going back to high school where he dominated with his running.
“A lot of people are four-year starters in college, but they don’t pan out at the professional level, or they get thrown into the fire right away in college and they don’t make it,” he says. “If it’s one play or a 100 plays, you’ve got to make the most of it. You never know who’s watching. You never know what’s going to happen. All you can do is control what you can control. The way I can control it is by how I make this play and show that I understand what I’m supposed to do on this play. Everything else I can’t control.
“I would definitely consider myself Air Canada. Ain’t nothing changed.”