REGINA — Tino Sunseri has a lot more homework to do these days.
The Saskatchewan Roughriders’ backup quarterback has been thrust into the starter’s role thanks to a season-ending injury to Darian Durant.
Sunseri is expected to get his first CFL start on Sunday in Hamilton when the Riders take on the Tiger-Cats.
“When you’re a kid growing up, you want to play pro football and you want to start games and you want to try and put your team in a position to win games,” Sunseri said after the team’s practice on Wednesday.
“This doesn’t really change from the way our quarterback room is, though. From the beginning of the year we have all been coming in and preparing as if we were the starter, making sure that we could help out whoever it was that was playing.”
Sunseri added that whether he’s the backup or the starter, his preparation doesn’t change drastically. He’ll still put in his hours studying game film, he’ll download video to his iPad and scour it a little more when he gets home at the end of the day. He’ll meet with offensive co-ordinator George Cortez and fellow quarterback Seth Doege, and they’ll talk about what they plan to call in certain game situations.
“I’m going to make sure I’m in here studying as much as I can, making sure I’m putting in the extra work and making sure that everybody has that faith in me so that whenever we step on the field that we’re going to be competitive and our offence is able to put points on the board,” Sunseri said.
Sunseri, in his second season with the Riders, has seen limited playing time this season. He stepped in for an injured Durant in the Riders’ Aug. 24 game against the B.C. Lions and threw a touchdown pass that stood as the game-winning score.
His most recent action was this past Sunday in Winnipeg after Durant exited with an elbow injury. The Riders held on to defeat the Blue Bombers 30-24, which was Saskatchewan’s seventh straight victory that pushed the team into second place in the West Division with an 8-2 record.
Cortez joked and said the one big difference between Sunseri and Durant is game experience, but later added he wasn’t concerned given Sunseri’s brief moments this season.
“I’m sure it gives him confidence,” Cortez said.
“On top of that, it gives confidence to the guys he’s playing with. You’re not as worried had it been a guy who hadn’t played at all, who could actually call a play in the huddle and get the snap and all that.”
The Riders picked up another quarterback Wednesday, signing Keith Price. The 23-year-old California native joins Saskatchewan after attending the Seattle Seahawks rookie camp. Price played four seasons for the University of Washington Huskies, and was originally signed by the defending Super Bowl champions in June as an undrafted free agent.
Sunseri certainly has the football pedigree working in his favour. Not only is he a graduate of Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh, Penn., the same institution that boasts such alumni as NFL quarterbacks Dan Marino and Marc Bulger, but Sunseri’s family is deeply immersed in the game as well.
Sal Sunseri, Tino’s father, was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1982 NFL draft and later coached with the Carolina Panthers for six seasons. He is now the defensive line coach with the Florida State Seminoles. Tino’s brother Vinnie Sunseri, is a defensive back in his rookie season with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints.