QBs Jennings, Mathews form mutual respect society

 

Lion, Ti-Cat make the best of backup plans after meeting in Green Bay

 
 
 
 
Jeff Mathews of Hamilton was handed the quarterbacking job when starter Zach Collaros suffered an injury.
 
 

Jeff Mathews of Hamilton was handed the quarterbacking job when starter Zach Collaros suffered an injury.

Photograph by: Peter Power, THE CANADIAN PRESS

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Young, poised and perhaps headed for CFL stardom, Jonathon Jennings might wonder how his career course would have gone had he decided to accept an Ivy League education at Cornell.

Recruited to play safety by the Big Red — even though he knew in his heart he was a quarterback — Jennings turned down the chance to attend his mom’s alma mater (Brenda Jennings is a graduate of Cornell in landscape architecture) for another specific reason: Jeff Mathews.

“Cornell wanted me as a defensive back,” Jennings said. “They already had their guy at quarterback. It was Jeff. Kent Austin was just coming in then as the new head coach. How would it have worked out for me if I’d gone there? You never know. I was blessed to have the career I did at Saginaw (Valley State, where he was conference player of the year).”

Under Austin, Mathews set 47 Cornell and Ivy League records, got an invitation to the East-West Shrine game, performed for scouts and GMs at the NFL combine in Indianapolis and later signed with the Atlanta Falcons following the 2014 draft.

In August last year, after being released by the Falcons, Mathews ran into Jennings for the first time at an audition with the Green Bay Packers. The workout lasted just 45 minutes, but Mathews got a favourable read on Jennings, just as the B.C. Lions did a few months later when they signed him.

“I think we’ve both been around a lot of quarterbacks enough to know who has it,” Mathews said. “Jon could really spin it (the football). You could tell he’s a good athlete. He really moves well. We talked about what we would do if we don’t get signed by the NFL. I said, ‘I might go up there (CFL).’ A year later, we’re both here.”

Tonight, at BC Place Stadium, Jennings and Mathews are opposing quarterbacks as the 5-10 Lions attempt to reverse their faltering playoff push and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats seek to retain their hold on first place in the East Division.

Mathews, replacing injured starter Zach Collaros, has averaged 260 passing yards per game with four TD throws in his past three starts for the 10-5 Ticats.

Jennings, who began the season as the Lions’ third-string quarterback, is just 1-3 as a starter. Yet, in those four games, he has thrown for 1,246 yards and 10 TDs. In CFL history, only three other first-year quarterbacks have thrown for more yards in their first four starts — Tobin Rote (Toronto, 1961), Jeff Garcia (Calgary, 1995) and David Archer (Sacramento, 1992). Rote and Archer already had extensive experience as NFL quarterbacks before they came to Canada (Rote, in fact, led the NFL in touchdown passes for two seasons before he joined the Argonauts). Garcia went on to become a four-time Pro Bowler in the NFL.

“I’m glad he (Jennings) saw himself as a quarterback,” Mathews says. “They (Cornell) wanted him to switch. We’re both small-school guys trying to make our way in pro football.”

At 6-4, 229 pounds, though, Mathews has the look of a prototypical NFL passer, which is why the Jaguars sent their quarterbacks coach to his Pro Day and the Cardinals privately worked him out. After the 2014 draft, the Falcons, Colts, Cardinals, Packers and Patriots either brought him in for a workout or had him on the roster for an evaluation period.

“He has a really strong arm. Really smart. Big frame. Big quarterback,” Jennings says of Mathews.

While Jennings also got looks from the Packers, Chiefs, Detroit Lions and Saskatchewan Roughriders last year, he, like Mathews, was not playing football by the end of it. Jennings did warehouse work.

Mathews, who graduated from Cornell with a degree in applied economics and management, was with a start-up company in New York City before Tiger-Cats GM Kent Austin — his coach at Cornell and a former CFL quarterback — signed him in January.

“We’re both fortunate to have good coaching,” Mathews says. “I’m sure Jon would say the same about Jeff Tedford (a QB guru at Cal). We have coaches who’ve been quarterbacks and understand the position. It creates a nice comfort level.”

It’s also a comfort to Tedford and Austin to have backup power, capable of giving their teams a jolt, in the midst of a potential quarterback disaster.

mbeamish@vancouversun.com

Twitter.com/sixbeamers

 
 
 
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Jeff Mathews of Hamilton was handed the quarterbacking job when starter Zach Collaros suffered an injury.
 

Jeff Mathews of Hamilton was handed the quarterbacking job when starter Zach Collaros suffered an injury.

Photograph by: Peter Power, THE CANADIAN PRESS

 
Jeff Mathews of Hamilton was handed the quarterbacking job when starter Zach Collaros suffered an injury.
Jonathon Jennings answered the Lions’ call for help when B.C. lost its top two quarterbacks to injury earlier this season.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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