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'Air Canada' Brandon Bridge hopes to fly direct into NFL, like Rypien and Palmer

John Kryk

By John Kryk, Toronto Sun

University of South Alabama quarterback Brandon Bridge, of Mississauga, Ont., attends the NFL scouting combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015. (John Kryk/QMI Agency)

University of South Alabama quarterback Brandon Bridge, of Mississauga, Ont., attends the NFL scouting combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015. (John Kryk/QMI Agency)

First there was Mark Rypien in the ’90s. Then Jesse Palmer early last decade.

Mississauga’s Brandon Bridge has a chance to become the third NFL quarterback in the modern era who hails from Canada.

Bridge is the 12th-ranked quarterback for the NFL draft in mid-spring, according to NFLDraftScout.com. Fourteen quarterbacks were selected last year.

Bridge had been so low on the radar in Canada that the CFL was apparently unaware of his existence until the last few weeks. More on that in a moment.

The 22-year-old from the University of South Alabama is one of 15 quarterbacks taking part in the NFL scouting combine. The scoop on Bridge is he is an especially raw, inaccurate passer who didn’t have much starting experience at two colleges (Alcorn State then South Alabama).

But, boy, does he have a bazooka for an arm. And a burning desire to stick it to his doubters.

Like his first childhood football idol -- Tom Brady of the New England Patriots -- Bridge prides himself on continually disappointing such critics.

“You want to prove them wrong,” Bridge said Thursday during his roundtable session with reporters. “Hopefully (I’ll) play in the NFL, and put Toronto on the map, showing that we have the talent.

“I was a Patriots fan, just due to the fact that Tom Brady overcame (so much). I love the ‘Brady 6’ story, of how he was always overlooked and always had that chip on his shoulder. I feel like I’m kind of doing that as well.”

On Monday, NFL Network’s Mike Mayock told me on his pre-combine conference call that Bridge has “got a whip (for an arm), it’s just he has no idea what he’s doing yet.”

Bridge acknowledged he has a lot to work on.

“I’ll take that criticism and definitely try to turn it into a positive,” he said. “I’m definitely working on all my weaknesses (to) turn them into strengths.”

To that end, Bridge has been working out with quarterback guru Steve Calhoun in California, and will continue in Alabama under the tutelage of David Morris at QB Country.

“There’s been a lot of talk about how I’ve got lazy footwork, and I kind of rely too much on my arm strength,” Bridge said. “Hopefully on Saturday I can show them I’ve been working on that, and it’s been polished up.

“(I’m) trying to have a balanced base whenever I throw the ball. Throughout the season (I was) falling back, and throwing off my back foot and relying on my arm. I have to stop doing that because obviously that gets me in trouble.”

Bridge was born in Toronto, and raised in the neighbouring Meadowvale/Streetsville area of Mississauga, which hugs the 401 highway around Mavis Road.

After taking up the sport at age 11, and becoming a quarterback at age 13, he starred in high school at St. Marcellinus Secondary School.

Bridge thought he’d get a scholarship offer to the University of Buffalo. But then head coach Turner Gill bolted to Kansas University, and the UB offer never came. Eventually, Bridge went to lower-division Alcorn State University in Lorman, Miss.

It was there, where former NFL star Steve McNair played his college ball, that Bridge earned his “Air Canada” nickname, which he incorporates into this Twitter handle (@Air_Canada_7).

“Fans at Alcorn State compared me to Steve ‘Air’ McNair,” Bridge said. “When people didn’t know my name they just called me ‘Canada,’ and so people just made it ‘Air Canada.’

“I kind of just stuck with it. Little did they know that (that’s the name of) a Canadian airline.”

After starting as a true freshman at Alcorn State in 2010, the coaches who recruited him left, and his experience there soured. He got his release.

Top-tier school Mississippi State, of the SEC, showed interest but didn’t have a spot for Bridge, so they turned him South Alabama’s way.

Over the past two seasons with the Jaguars, Bridge completed just 50.1% of his passes for 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions -- bad numbers, really, and in an NFL-unfriendly spread attack to boot.

Still, there’s no reason the CFL Scouting Bureau should have been unaware of him until last month: Bridge wasn’t included in the bureau’s 20 Canadian prospects, either in its initial September rankings or in the updated ones in December.

Why was Bridge omitted?

“I have no idea,” he said. “I actually have now been invited to the CFL’s scouting combine (March 27-29 in Toronto). But it’s around my pro day, and my agent told me to just worry about the NFL combine and (South Alabama’s March 30) pro day.”

Bridge’s message to NFL talent evaluators this week?

“That I’m turning all my weaknesses into strengths, and that the guy you’ll get on your team is a great teammate, and a guy who’s always willing to work hard.”


Limited by ankle injury, Tyler Varga hopes to bench-press 30 reps of 225 pounds

An ankle injury will prevent Tyler Varga from taking part in speed and athleticism drills on Saturday at the NFL scouting combine.

But the muscle-packed running back from Kitchener, Ont., will do the bench press on Friday -- even though the weight of 225 pounds is less than what he’s used to benching.

“The way that I’ve trained in the past is I actually rep with 275 pounds,” Varga said Thursday at his roundtable interview session with reporters. “I’ve done that for 20 reps before, so I should be able to do 30 at 225.

“I’ll be happy if I do 30.”

He should be elated if he can do that. Only four of this year’s 53 offensive linemen benched more than 30 reps of 225 at their session on Thursday. No tight end did more than 28.

Varga, the son of two former competitive bodybuilders, sounded disappointed he can’t do any of the on-field tests and drills here.

“I have an ankle impingement,” Varga said. “Nothing serious, but it’s limiting me a little bit.”

The 21-year-old said he expects to be healthy enough to do all of the combine drills at his pro day, March 31.

john.kryk@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/JohnKryk

blogs.canoe.ca/krykslants/


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