WINNIPEG — For the first time in his pro football career, Matt Nichols is heading into a season as a starting quarterback.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers pivot feels it will be a natural transition from backup to starter.
"Honestly, going into this season feels more normal to me than my last seven seasons have been because from second grade all the way through college, I was always the starting quarterback," Nichols said before he and backup quarterbacks Dominique Davis and Dan LeFevour met fans for an autograph session inside the team store.
"So this honestly feels more natural to me than coming in as the second or third guy like I have most of my career."
The quarterbacks were also in the city for a three-day mini camp starting Wednesday.
Nichols, 30, signed a three-year extension with the Bombers in January that takes him through the 2019 CFL season.
He earned the deal after taking over Drew Willy's starting job last year. Winnipeg was 1-4 under Willy and Nichols led them to seven straight victories and a final 11-7 record that was enough to get the club into the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
The Bombers lost the West Division semifinal to the B.C. Lions, but Nichols posted career highs for touchdowns (18), yards (3,666) and completions (327).
Nichols had joined Winnipeg in a trade with Edmonton in September 2015 after Willy was injured. His tenure with the Eskimos included a broken leg, torn anterior cruciate ligament and back-up duties when starter Mike Reilly was healthy.
The Eastern Washington grad has been working hard to keep the reins and build on last year's success.
"You always feel like you've always worked your hardest, but I can say without a doubt this is the hardest I've worked in an off-season and I'm looking forward to getting going with the guys," he said.
That work has included watching a lot more game film of himself and other CFL quarterbacks and implementing his findings into his training.
"I've really gone back and looked at the things I feel I can get better at," he said.
He also views himself, Davis and LeFevour as a trio that will help push each other.
Davis, 27, re-signed with the team he joined in 2015. He had one start in that year's final regular-season game.
The Bombers also signed free-agent LeFevour in February. He started three games last year with Toronto — where Willy was traded to — played 2015 with Montreal and spent the previous three seasons with Hamilton.
But Nichols was definitely the star attraction at the autograph signing.
Nine-year-old Frankie Rumore had a Bombers helmet tucked under his arm to get signed and was most excited to see Nichols "because he's our quarterback and he's really good."
Season-ticket holder Sheldon Shymko, who brought Rumore to the session for a friend, was optimistic about the team with Nichols at the helm.
"I think he provided a lot of leadership last year," Shymko said. "He was consistent. He was able to read the plays well, make quick decisions. I think it bodes well for the Bombers."
Judy Owen, The Canadian Press