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By Mitchell Blair
A couple of weeks ago during a TSN telecast, former Rider Glen Suitor said quarterback Darian Durant was being talked about as a possible most outstanding player candidate in 2009. I’m a big fan of Durant, but even I had to wonder aloud about that statement. If you were to ask me going into last week’s game against the B.C. Lions about who the Riders most outstanding player was in 2009, I would have answered Weston Dressler. However, I must admit that my opinion has changed.
Former head coach Kent Austin told me before the 2007 season started that Durant was perhaps one of the most intelligent quarterbacks he had ever been around and that while he didn’t have the arm, he had the brain and more importantly, he had the attitude of a winner. I, and many other Rider fans, started to wonder if we would ever see that arm, brain and attitude get onto the football field, but when we did see him in 2008 many were impressed and knew that a top-notch CFL quarterback could be molded out of what the University of North Carolina product brought to the table.
I will always wonder how the 2008 season would have unfolded had it not been for Toronto’s Willie Pile hitting Durant during the 5th game of the year. Had Durant not suffered broken ribs on that play, the quarterback carousel that 2008 became famous for would not have happened and Michael Bishop would never have worn green. Remember Durant had a great start when called upon to take over for the then injured Marcus Crandell. He had back to back 300 yard outings with five touchdowns and two interceptions in wins against Hamilton and Montreal. As we know now, it was a glimpse of the future
Fast forward to 2009, and Durant was handed the keys to the Rider offence. For the first few weeks of the season, the engine did sputter but when Durant took the step of staying in Regina during the bye week to get better instead of going home, it said he is ready to become the type of leader you need at football’s key position to win a championship.
Since performing that unselfish move, the Riders have gone 6-2 and are on the precipice of winning their first Western Division regular season title since 1976. Durant has been 181 of 284 passing for 2156 yards with 9 interceptions and 11 touchdowns. Many of those 11 have been at key times.
While the team did not win October 2 in B.C, Durant took them down the field late in the 4th quarter to get a game-tying touchdown and two point conversion. He didn’t drive the team to a touchdown late in the game during a home game against Toronto October 10, but he did lead the team on a time-consuming drive ending it with a short Luca Congi field goal that made it a very important two possession game.
His efforts in the 44-44 tie against Calgary were once again worthy of being special as he drove the team down the field when he had to with them down 30-22 to not only score the touchdown, but once again get the two point conversion and then score in back to back possessions to keep the pressure on the Stampeders.
He followed that up by once again coming through when the chips were down this past Saturday by rallying the team after a Barron Miles interception that went back for a touchdown by going 85 yards in five plays to get the much needed touchdown followed by another game-tying two point conversion.
Durant has proven to everyone that he is more than capable of getting the job done when the game is on the line. He has ice-water in his veins at crunch-time and he has proven that he has a sense of poise and leadership that is needed by a championship-calibre club. What is perhaps most surprising of all is that it comes from someone who has not had 25 starts as a professional football player.
In a season where no one player has produced particularly gaudy numbers, there is no reason to think Durant could not be named the Most Outstanding Player in 2009. He may have to go through Anthony Calvillo to get it, but one could argue Durant’s accomplishments have been greater than that of the Montreal quarterback.
Maybe Glen Suitor was right in his assessment. Kent Austin definitely was in his.