One of the first things John Dzwilewski did when the University of Calgary called his home in Boise, Idaho, about the possibility of his son playing football in Canada was pick up an atlas.
“It was kind of like, hey, you’ve got another call, but this isn’t one from Washington or Idaho or Nevada or California,” Dzwilewski said this week over the phone. “This is one from Calgary. Where the heck’s Calgary, anyway?
“Oh heck, that’s north of Montana. Oh my gosh, that’s in Canada.”
Once the initial shock wore off that a postsecondary institution north of the 49th parallel was interested in his son, Eric, the Dzwilewskis made a recruiting visit to the Calgary campus.
That was in March or April of 2010. And of course it started to snow just as Eric stepped onto the football field at McMahon Stadium.
“At least it didn’t last long,” John Dzwilewski said.
And that was the unlikely beginning to the start of what has been a beautiful relationship thus far with Eric Dzwilewski and the U of C Dinos, a football player deemed too small to play quarterback for U.S. schools within the ranks of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
But in the eyes of Calgary coach Blake Nill, the six-foot, 185-pound Dzwilewski was perfectly suited to the Canadian game with his quick feet and rifle arm.
“He fit the kind of offence that we wanted to run,” Nill said. “We want to put our quarterbacks in a position to use their legs as much as possible.”
Lured to Calgary after Blake essentially offered him the keys to the offence and a chance to play quarterback, the 20-year-old will be leading No.3 Calgary into Saturday’s Mitchell Bowl national semi-final against the No.1 McMaster Marauders in Hamilton.
And the air should be filled with footballs with the two top offensive teams in the nation battling it out for a trip to the Vanier Cup the following week at Toronto’s Rogers Centre.
Saturday’s other national semi-final in Quebec City, the Uteck Bowl, will pit No.2 Laval Rouge et Or against No.9 Acadia.
Eric Dzwilewski admitted that when Calgary first came calling trying to recruit him, he was dubious.
“It was not a good reaction at first, I didn’t even consider it,” he said. “I was joking with my friends, there is no way this is possible. I’ll just take what options were coming my way in the U.S.
“But the recruiting process went on and things started to sort themselves out and Calgary began to look better and better. I soon realized that Calgary has a great academic program, a great football tradition, and that Canadians actually do play football, and they actually enjoy it.”
And, of course, there was the matter of getting used to the different rules that govern the Canadian game.
“I’ve come to realize that it’s a wider field and it’s longer and you only have three downs and they’ve got this crazy thing called a rouge where you can get a point,” John Dzwilewski said.
“And the names for the awards up in Canada are just crazy. Hec Crighton! What does that mean?”
The Hec Crighton Trophy, named after a former teacher and CFL referee who rewrote the game’s rule book in 1952, is awarded annually to the top CIS player.
Dzwilewski’s son is the Canada West nominee for the Crighton this year after he completed 154 of 218 passes on the season for 2,290 yards and 15 touchdowns. His 70.6 completion percentage was the best in Canada and set a Canada West record.
His numbers are even more impressive when you consider that in six of Calgary’s first eight games of the season, Dzwilewski did not see action in the fourth quarter after the Dinos had built up big leads. In three of the games he did not play in the second half.
It will be the first meeting between Calgary and McMaster, the defending national champion, which is riding a CIS record 20-game undefeated streak.
The Marauders will be led by Kyle Quinlin, their strong-armed quarterback who is the Ontario nominee for CIS player-of-the-year honour after passing for more than 2,400 yards this season.