It's a long way from North Carolina to Montreal and from the NCAA to the CFL, but that's the transition Anthony Boone is making. On Tuesday, the Alouettes announced that they'd signed Boone, who wrapped up his NCAA career with the Duke Blue Devils last fall and left with 19 victories, making him the winningest quarterback in school history. Boone then went to the NFL combine, and although he wasn't drafted, he signed a free-agent contract with the Detroit Lions afterwards. The Lions cut him in June, though, paving the way for the Alouettes to pick him up. Some college stars wouldn't have been thrilled about heading to the CFL so soon, but in a phone interview Wednesday, Boone said he was excited to get another chance to prove himself as a pro.
"It was the opportunity to play football," he said. "I wanted to play no matter where it was."
Boone said he'd seen a few CFL games on TV before, but didn't know much about the league or its rules. Now he's arrived in Montreal, he's finding out there are plenty of major differences for quarterbacks, which has frequently led to difficulties for rookies. Boone said the bigger field and the longer throws it requires can be particularly tough to adapt to. He said the 12th man on each side makes it harder to identify defensive alignments pre-snap, too, something he was always taught to focus on in college.
"There's an extra player on the field, so I have to try and get adjusted to that," he said. "It's going to take me a little time to adjust."
What's even more difficult is that Boone's joining the team after five weeks of play, so there's no training camp or preseason for him to work on making those adjustments.
"The toughest part is coming in midseason," he said.
Boone said his work ethic and dedication should let him catch up quickly, though. He's optimistic he'll be fitting into the CFL well within a few weeks.
"This is my job," he said. "It's not going to take me very long."
He's enjoying his new surroundings, too.
"I love Montreal so far," Boone said. "The people here are so nice. There's a lot of different people, a lot of different food. ...Montreal's a great place."
It's a long way from home, though. Boone grew up in Weddington, North Carolina, and starred at Weddington High School, earning four all-conference and all-county nods. He had some interest from more famed football schools, but elected to stay in-state by heading to Duke, a decision he credits to the school's renowned academics. He graduated with a psychology degree in December, and said Duke's academic reputation should help him succeed after football.
"It was a degree to keep me secure really for the rest of my life."
Boone received plenty of football benefits from choosing the Blue Devils, too, though. Under renowned head coach David Cutcliffe, who was famously Peyton Manning's quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator at Tennessee and has been leading Duke since 2008, they've experienced a resurgence of late, ending an 18-year bowl drought in 2012, going 10-4 in 2013, and posting a 9-4 record in 2014. (It's possible his success both in high school and at Duke caught the eye of Montreal GM Jim Popp, who lives in North Carolina.) The innovative offensive schemes Cutcliffe brought in were a part of that, and Boone said Cutcliffe, former offensive coordinator Kurt Roper and current offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery were vital to his growth as a quarterback.
"It was really learning to be a professional quarterback," Boone said. "Coach Cutcliffe, Coach Roper and Coach Montgomery, they all helped make me the quarterback I am."
Boone said the Blue Devils' frequent use of shotgun formations and spread concepts was excellent preparation for what he's now doing with the Alouettes, too.
"It's not far off what I did in college."
Boone said Cutcliffe in particular helped him grow both on and off the field.
"He's a great motivator and a great mentor," Boone said. "He's teaching me to be a better leader, a better man."
At first, Boone plans to exercise that leadership quietly in Montreal. Despite his impressive college resume and his recent role as a starter, he's coming in deep down the Alouettes' quarterback depth chart, behind starter Rakeem Cato and backup Brandon Bridge (and remember, season-opening starter Jonathan Crompton is still on the injured list). Boone said his plan is to just do whatever he can to improve, something that's worked for him in the past.
"I just want to go out there and progress," he said. "Starting from the bottom and working my way up is what I did in high school, what I did at Duke. I'll start from the bottom and grind my ass until I'm back on top."
Boone said he's been welcomed by his Montreal teammates so far. One of those teammates, Michael Sam, has drawn a lot of international media attention for being the CFL's first openly-gay player, although he hasn't played in a game yet. (That may change this month.) Boone said he hasn't had a chance to speak to Sam much yet, but his teammates speak highly of him, and none of them are concerned about Sam being a distraction. They see him as just another teammate.
"Everyone in the locker room seems to have a good rapport with him," Boone said. "Ultimately, at the end of the day, the only thing people care about is winning."
That's what Boone cares about, too. He's been written off in many places, including a NFL.com scouting report, for being too short (he's listed as 6'0'', 225 pounds), but that hasn't stopped numerous CFL quarterbacks, including legends like Doug Flutie (5'9'', 182) and Anthony Calvillo (6'1'', 200) and current Montreal starter Cato (6'0'', 178). We'll see if Boone ever gets to that level, but he has high expectations for himself in the CFL, regardless of if that leads back to the NFL or not.
"I'm hoping to make a name for myself," he said. "If that happens to take me back to the NFL, great, but if not, I'm not worried. I want to dominate this league."