McMaster's Asher Hastings aiming at legendary CIS record

Neate Sager
Asher Hastings broke the OUA TD pass record with two games to spare (Yoseif Haddad photo)

Asher Hastings is quick to acknowledge he's not Chris Flynn, although he is plenty quick at delivering the ball to his McMaster Marauders receivers. 

Major passing records — for a school, a conference, a country, for a left-handed redshirt freshman — seem to fall every weekend on gridirons across North America. So the facts the Canadian university football record that Hastings is in reach of predates the 23-year-old quarterback's lifetime and belongs to Flynn, the first Canadian Football Hall of Fame member inducted for his university playing career, fairly jump off the page.

Hastings has 25 touchdown passes with two games left in the Ontario University Athletics regular season, five shy of Flynn's mark of 30 set in 1989 at Saint Mary's. The Regina native has seen the vapour trails of the Flynn legend, which get passed down through firsthand recollections and YouTube.

"I've seen some highlights of him — a video put together for an awards dinner — and he was a pretty mobile guy, is that correct?" says Hastings. "He flew around making crazy, athletic throws on the run. That's what I know of him and Dana Seguin, one of our special teams coaches, was his teammate at SMU, and he's told me things.

"I definitely wouldn't make any kind of comparison to Chris Flynn based on the little bit I've seen," adds Hastings, a pocket passer who played four junior seasons with the Regina Thunder before coming east in 2014 to join perennially potent McMaster. "I'm nowhere close."

However, Hastings is close to a record heading into McMaster's last two OUA regular-season games against rivals Laurier and Western. That's unusual considering the pattern with other CIS marks. For instance, CIS had never had a 10,000-yard passer before 2009. Sherbrooke's Jérémi Roch recently became the fifth player in the last seven seasons to reach five figures in his five seasons. Roch will soon take the career mark away from Laurier coach Michael Faulds, whose staff is scheming to slow down Hastings and the Marauder machinery on Saturday. 

Flynn's 30-TD mark has been almost like a three-minute mile. The closest anyone has come to it is, in fact, Chris Flynn, when he had 27 in 1990, when he became the first (and still only) player to three-peat as the Hec Crighton Trophy honouree. 

"It is surprising it's lasted, for three good reasons," says Flynn, who resides in Mayo, Que., and is  director of sponsorships for Football Canada. "Number one, they do throw more than we did 25 years ago. Number two,  there are more quality quarterbacks. If we had 25 schools in Canada when I played, there were probably 10 pretty good quarterbacks who threw the ball well and had pretty good statistics. Nowadays it seems like nearly all 27 in the CIS have someone who is very good. Thirdly, they have one more regular-season game than we did, eight instead of seven.

"I would have thought, for sure, that probably would have broken."

Worked with Argos

Canadian quarterbacks (and more than a few fans) have bashed their heads against the CFL's glass ceiling since well before Flynn's day. There is more opportunity for the Canadian QB, though. Most CFL teams bring in a Canadian to training camp for a 'QB internship.' Hastings took full advantage of the three weeks he spent with the Toronto Argonauts.

"It made me fully, deeply understand the style of offence that we run at Mac," says Hastings, who is on course to graduate from the Hamilton university this spring with degrees in psychology and sociology, along with a business certificate. "I got to learn a lot of really, really cool details that I've tried to apply to what we do here. That program really gives us a chance to take what you want out of it. If you want to go and really lock in, do your best mentally, you can pull a lot out of it.

"It's not like you're getting first-team reps, you can kind of coast and be in la-la land, but I tried to get every mental rep out of it that I could. [Argonauts quarterback] Trevor Harris literally sat me down and shows me how he studies and the markings he makes on his playbook and the way they verbalize [before the snap] and the way they go through their progressions."

Hastings emphaisizes he is "the robot that is running the system and getting the ball to all these great playmakers," which is a good qualifier to make nine days out from a season finale vs. No. 3-ranked Western. His only two interceptions and only outing with fewer than four TDs both came in McMaster's lone loss against nationally ranked Guelph last month.

Wide receiver Danny Vandervoort has an OUA-leading nine TDs, and fellow wideout Dan Petermann is third in the conference with 664 yards and six scoring grabs. Max Cameron is also in the top 20 in OUA receiving. Lead running back Wayne Moore is good for 15-20 productive touches each week. Hastings' offensive line has allowed only five sacks.

"We probably have the best one-on-one receiving corps in the league, as far as jump balls go," Hastings says. "For me, they're coming down with those 50/50 balls all the time, and making me look better than I would be."

That said, a quarterback has to have the touch to convince his coaches to call passes in the score zone.

"Asher's preparation is second to none," Marauders offensive coordinator Jon Behie says. "Watching the way he prepares it is not a surprise to see this. He's safe with the football and knows what coverage we're expecting and where to go to with the ball."

"I didn't realize the record was that high until people started bringing it up," Behie adds. "It'd be special for us to get there. We're not playing for it; it's a byproduct. To be mentioned in the same breath as someone such as Chris Flynn is notable for Asher and everyone involved in our offence."

A quarter-century after his last university game, Flynn says he "still doesn't know how I threw 27 touchdowns in 1990." His record '89 season was predicated on having a quartet of dangerous receivers — Ian MacDonald and Matt Nealon out wide, Bill Scollard and Brian Smith inside — at a time when SMU's Atlantic conference rivals were rebuidling. The 'second record' came after Scollard and Smith had moved on and running back Sean Mongey had come along to earn some red-zone opportunities.

Flynn hopeful for Canadian QBs

In the present, the incremental gains for Canadian quarterbacks keep coming. Brandon Bridge made a start for Montreal earlier this season. Ottawa Redblacks slotback Brad Sinopoli was listed as a QB by Calgary in 2011-12 before converting. Canada West has Calgary's Andrew Buckley, Manitoba's Theo Deezar and UBC's Michael O'Connor impressing on a weekly basis.

"You have 27 schools that play in Canada and hundreds in the States," says Flynn, who had brief pro stints with the Montreal Machine in the old World League and with the Ottawa Rough Riders. "There's just a lot more in the States, but for sure, the quality of the Canadian quarterback is better than 25 years and maybe even 10 years ago. I think eventually we're going to see a Canadian quarterback get in there, but he is competing against hundreds of American quarterbacks that are trying to make it, too, whether it's the NFL or CFL. That's one challenge."

Meantime, Hastings stresses that's he had the best of support. His hand towel includes the digits 306, Saskatchewan's area code, to let Ontarians and people back home know about his roots.

"The program that I came from gave me a great opportunity, just playing in my first year there when I was 18 wasn't expected," Hastings says. "A lot of people put a lot of time into me and the support has really continued here at McMaster."

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @naitSAYger.