There are plenty of incredibly talented Canadians already in the CFL, with many more to follow in May's draft, but the player judged to be Canadian university football's top talent last year and one of the best Canadian university athletes in any sport isn't among them. That would be former Bishop's Gaiters quarterback Jordan Heather, last year's Hec Crighton winner as the top CIS football player and one of four nominees for the Doug Mitchell Trophy as the top male CIS athlete at Monday's BLG Awards. Like many top CIS football players, Heather has moved on to the professional ranks. In his case, though, largely thanks to the position he plays, he's doing so in France:
One of four nominees up for the Doug Mitchell Trophy to be awarded to the CIS male athlete of the year, Heather endured a nine-hour flight back to Canada from France, where he's playing professional football for the St. Etienne Giants.
"I had to talk to our team president to obviously come back," said Heather, who missed a game on Sunday so he could be in Calgary. "They were very much on board with me coming over. They thought it was too big of an opportunity to miss."
Heather, from Oromocto, N.B., recently completed his fifth and final season as quarterback for the Bishop's University Gaiters. He set a new Canadian university record by throwing for 3,132 yards in eight league games en route to claiming the Hec Crighton Trophy as CIS player of the year.
"For me, winning the Hec Crighton was a huge honour," said Heather during a Sunday afternoon reception for all eight male and female award nominees. "I never thought at all of ever being nominated in the class of athletes that we have here. We have people here that could potentially be in the Olympics one day. It's a surreal moment and it's the height of my athletic career so far."
It is somewhat unfortunate that Heather, one of the best CIS quarterbacks ever by the numbers, won't be heading to Canadian professional football. It's probably logical for him, though; while he posted a CIS single-season record of 3,132 passing yards in eight regular-season games last year, and while it would be very interesting to see what he could do in the CFL ranks, the league's decision to not consider quarterbacks' nationalities means that few Canadians are going to get a real shot at the position. Plenty have tried and found some limited success, from Danny Brannagan to Brad Sinopoli to Marc Mueller to Kyle Quinlan, but none have been able to stick around for the long term, and the amount of high-profile, high-potential former NCAA and NFL quarterbacks out there means many teams aren't even willing to look at Canadians at the moment. Thus, heading overseas is probably a better move for Heather at this point in time.
At first, it would seem silly that a Canadian can play as a professional quarterback in France but not in Canada, but there are other factors to consider here. For one, the CFL has an incredible level of talent at the moment and has a strong argument as the best professional football outside the NFL. It's hard to comment specifically on the calibre of French football without seeing it, but it seems unlikely that it's up there with the CFL. That doesn't mean that Heather couldn't make it in Canadian football if given a fair shot, but it does mean that his success in France isn't a clear indication he could catch on in the CFL. Beyond that, too, Heather told Rita Mingo of The Calgary Herald that going to France was desirable from an off-field standpoint:
“After I finished my final year at Bishop’s, there’s obviously a big decision to make on whether to try to play pro in the CFL or continue and play elsewhere,” he pointed out. “I felt trying to play in Europe was a great life experience overall. I was able to come over here. It wasn’t so much about furthering my career at that point; it was more about the experience and being able to travel the world.”
So, this isn't a full tragedy. Heather's still playing football at a spot of his choosing, and it's very cool that his team gave him leave to travel back for a major CIS award. It is somewhat unfortunate that the CFL didn't appear more welcoming for the quarterback with the best single-season numbers in CIS history, though, and that's probably not going to change much under the current rules. The CFL's always on the lookout for the best CIS players, unless they happen to play quarterback.