‘Hard-headed’ Mike Reilly becomes CFL’s last quarterback standing

SURREY, B.C. — Amid a disappointing season for the B.C. Lions, Mike Reilly is accomplishing a feat unrivalled by his colleagues across the league — he’s staying healthy.

Due to a spate of injuries in the CFL — the latest being suffered by Edmonton’s Trevor Harris, who will miss Friday’s game against Hamilton with an upper-body ailment — this week Reilly is set to become the lone pivot to start every game for his team this season.

“I’m probably just hard headed,” the 34-year-old Reilly said of his durability on Thursday.

Staying healthy hasn’t been easy for the veteran quarterback this year. The Lions have been under siege since the beginning of the season, allowing more sacks than any other team (45) en route to the worst record in the league (2-10).

At times, the physical toll has threatened to take Reilly out of commission. He suffered an apparent ankle injury in a 35-34 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Aug. 10 but was back practising with his teammates just two days later.

Despite being hit more than any other quarterback in the league, Reilly has maintained solid passing numbers, throwing for 2,953 yards, 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 12 games.

Only Edmonton’s Harris and Toronto’s McLeod Bethel-Thompson have more yards, with 3,706 and 3,004 respectively.

Reilly, who will be back behind centre Saturday in Ottawa against the Redblacks, admits that a slow start to his career plays a part in his unwillingness to nurse an ailment on the sidelines.

He spent three years backing up former Lions quarterback Travis Lulay before getting his first shot at a starting job in Edmonton in 2013. Sitting on the sidelines, he decided he would never let small aches or pains take him out of a game.

“That’s just how I’ve always approached it,” Reilly said. “I appreciate every time that I get to line up and take a snap and play this game. And I’ll never take that for granted.”

When he signed a four-year, $2.9-million deal with the Lions in February, the club knew it was getting “an ironman,” said B.C. coach DeVone Claybrooks.

Not only does Reilly take care of his body in and out of season, he has a unquenchable thirst to play the game, the coach said.

“Every week if he has a nick or bruise, that cheetah blood just comes through and he’s ready to play,” Claybrooks said.

The coach added that Reilly’s work ethic provides a strong example for other athletes in the locker room.

“That’s why he’s our leader,” Claybrooks said. ”It’s pretty easy for me to point at other guys and say ‘This guy, you understand what he’s been through and he’s still up, still standing. And you’re out here with a little tweak, not wanting to practise with a little tweak.’ So it actually raises the accountability of the whole locker room up, him being as durable as he is.”

A torn ligament in his left knee kept Reilly off the field for several weeks back in 2015. He returned in time to help the Eskimos win the Grey Cup and was crowned MVP.

Whenever fellow CFL quarterbacks suffer devastating blows, Reilly’s reminded of what he had to overcome to get back into game shape.

So far this season, the toughest blow to watch was when Zach Collaros, then of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, was taken out by an illegal hit to the head during the CFL season opener on June 13, he said.

“It was the first game and it was only a couple plays into the season,” Reilly said. “I know Zach fairly well and I think he’s a really good guy and I know that he works really hard. I think he was excited about this season starting up and for him to be knocked like he did, that early in the beginning, that was hard to see.”

Collaros was traded to the Argonauts in late July but has yet to play another game this season.

While injuries are simply part of football, it’s important to remember that the players who suffer them are human, Reilly said.

“You know that’s a person. That’s not just a piece on a roster, a number on a roster.,” he said. ”It’s somebody who actually has to go home and deal with the pain of whatever the injuries are and stuff like that. It is the reality of our game, but it sucks to see it.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 19, 2019.

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