There are comeback stories, feel good stories and then there's Kyle Quinlan's story. It's all about a bad choice, a majestic comeback and now this – a nomination for male athlete of the year in Canadian Interuniversity Sport.
Little wonder the 23-year-old quarterback from McMaster University was all aw shucks and humble Wednesday. His year may have started off on a down note but it just keeps getting sweeter.
"There was no way I was thinking this when the season began," Quinlan said at a news conference celebrating the eight nominees for the 20th annual BLG Awards show. "The lows were really low but a lot of people told me it's how you handle adversity that counts. … I can't believe all the good that's happened."
Quinlan's season almost ended last September following a disturbance outside a Hamilton bar. Initially, he was charged with assault before pleading guilty to causing a disturbance and receiving a one-year conditional sentence.
Along with that, the fourth-year senior – a favourite for the Hec Crighton award as the best football player in CIS – was suspended by McMaster. It was labelled as an indefinite ban that ended up being three games, roughly a third of the season. At the time, the last thing on the minds of the players and coaches was a trip to the Vanier Cup and a go at the national championship.
But that's what happened after Quinlan returned to the lineup and guided his team through the playoffs. Then, pitted against powerhouse Laval in the Vanier Cup finale, Quinlan played the game of his life. He passed for 482 yards and ran for 106. He took his team to a 23-0 lead, watched it fall behind then brought it back for a 41-38 win in overtime.
It was an emotional affair that mirrored Quinlan's season.
"Hoisting that trophy, looking around and seeing the amount of fans who had driven out there [to BC Place Stadium in Vancouver] being the first Vanier Cup in Mac history, that's what I'll remember most," he said.
What proved equally rewarding for Quinlan was seeing most of his family in attendance. They had not only stood by him during this legal ordeal, they'd nurtured him for years. As a divorced parent, Brenda Quinlan raised five girls and one boy. Kyle said his upbringing wasn't as bad as you'd think since his sisters were all athletic and eventually followed their own academic paths.
"When I was younger, I'd throw the football to one my sisters. I'd be hitting her in the head when she was running [pass]routes," he said with a laugh. As a show of affection, Quinlan has walked two of his sisters down the aisle on their wedding days. And like his sisters, he's had to pay his own way through university, which is why he was sick last autumn over the possibility he might have thrown it all away in a single night.
Thankfully, he acknowledged, he got a second chance. Next up is the CFL college draft on May 3 and the hope of going to a team that will see his throwing skills and stature (6 foot 3, 205 pounds) and be willing to give him a try at quarterback.
"Brad Sinopoli [the former University of Ottawa quarterback now with the Calgary Stampeders]has approached it the right way," Quinlan said. "He's shown he can play on a level field [with U.S. quarterbacks] … Being a Canadian quarterback means growing up in this game. It's the one advantage we have."
The BLG Awards, founded by Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, will be handed out in Calgary on April 30. The top male and female athlete will each receive a $10,000 postgraduate scholarship.
The female nominees are: Tyson Beukeboom, St. Francis Xavier, rugby. The daughter of four-time Stanley Cup winner Jeff Beukeboom, Tyson played hockey, too. But there was one small problem for her. "Women's hockey had no contact," she explained. "When I got to high school, I heard about rugby. I liked it."
Robyn Pendleton, University of British Columbia, field hockey. She helped her team win a 13th national title and is playing professionally with Cercle Athlétique de Montrouge, France's national champions in 2010.
Ann-Sophie Bettez, McGill, hockey. A five-time first-team Quebec all-star, Bettez is McGill's career leading scorer and helped her school win the 2011-12 national championship.
Jacey Murphy, Guelph, rugby. Murphy was a big reason why Guelph defeated its foes by a margin of 453-8 last season en route to winning a national title.
The other BLG male nominees are: Andrew Clark, Acadia, hockey; Marc-André Dorion, McGill, hockey; and Ben Ball, Trinity Western, volleyball.