CALGARY – Drew Tate included music in his preparation to lead the Stampeder offence this season.
“I learned how to play the piano this off-season,” the quarterback declared. “I sure did. I always wanted to learn to play the piano.
“I figure if my brain can pick that up then it’ll just translate into what I do, football. It does strengthen your hands and wrists and stuff like that.
Piano lessons were for Sundays. From Monday to Saturday, Tate strengthened his legs, back, shoulders and core muscles to brace for the pounding a starting quarterback in the Canadian Football League takes over 18 regular-season games plus playoffs.
The Stampeders are giving the ball to the 27-year-old from Baytown, Texas, when main camp starts Sunday after seven seasons of Henry Burris behind centre.
Burris was traded to Hamilton and Tate signed a contract extension in January. For the first time since he joined the Stampeder organization in 2009, there’s no one ahead of Tate on the depth chart.
“I think my biggest challenge is going to be staying healthy and just continually produce, don’t get lose in my reads, don’t turn the ball over and just being consistent,” Tate says.
“I’m really not worried about the season right now. I’m worried about my performance in camp because that’s important. It’s about getting comfortable with the receivers and having people comfortable with me, with a new quarterback coming in.”
Tate may seem understated compared to Burris’s big personality, wide grin and hearty laugh. Tate’s confidence is more California surfer than New York showman.
“I am a different quarterback than Hank,” Tate concedes. “Hank was an explosive player. He had such a big arm that he was able to hold onto the ball a little longer and could throw it 60 or 70 yards downfield.
“My whole thing, when I get on the field, is like I’m a doctor going into the emergency. I’m just trying to bam, bam, bam, just snip, clip and eventually get there and be precise on what I’m doing.”
The transition to Tate began last season when head coach and general manager John Hufnagel started him in the final four games. Tate wasn’t flashy, but he was effective in three wins to end the regular season. He threw for 791 yards and four touchdowns with 65 per cent accuracy.
The West Division semifinal in Edmonton was less memorable as he completed just half of 10 passes in the first half.
Tate also dropped the ball after a snap with no Eskimo near him, which the hosts turned into a pivotal touchdown en route to victory. Burris couldn’t rescue a win in the second half though, which furthered the notion that Tate would be Hufnagel’s man come 2012.
The six-foot, 192-pound Iowa product finished 2011 with 101-of-158 passing (63.9 per cent), 1,346 passing yards and eight TDs while also throwing five interceptions.
When Hufnagel says there’s some mystery surrounding the Stampeders heading into training camp, he’s referring in large part to Tate.
“He’ll be on the field for 18 games playing 60 minutes,” Hufnagel said. “He has not had to do that and how will his physical and mental aspects handle that type of stress?”
Hufnagel acquired 32-year-old veteran Kevin Glenn in the Burris trade as insurance.
Once Burris was traded and he re-signed, Tate headed to Geneva, Ohio, to train with Bryan McCall, whom he’d worked with two seasons ago.
“I felt a big difference between two years ago working with him going into training camp than I did last year not working with him,” Tate says. “I figured this was a big year for me personally so I wanted to go wherever he was. I wanted to get stronger, get my body right.”
Calgary’s offensive co-ordinator Dave Dickenson was once in Tate’s shoes. When Jeff Garcia left for the NFL, Dickenson took over as Calgary’s starter in 1998.
“The main thing for Drew is he’s not a rookie,” Dickenson points out. “He’s been around. He knows he can play the game. There are some differences, though. You can be a little more vocal in the locker-room.
“For Drew, I think it’s important for him just to be himself and understand we have confidence in him.
“It’s not always going to go well. The tough thing is you think you put all this time and effort in there and it’s just going to work. It might, but you’re going to have some bumps and you’ve got to keep that confidence high and keep believing and work through those.”
Tate was Iowa’s starter three of his four seasons there and the last in 2006. His 56-yard, game-winning touchdown to Warren Holloway as time expired in the 2005 Capital One Bowl against LSU is still a thrilling highlight on YouTube.
Those experiences are helpful to a point, but the pro game is different, especially in Canada.
“The game down there protects the quarterback a little more than the game up here with the running game, with the protections, with the play actions and such,” Tate explains. “Up here, you’re passing the ball more, you’re going to get hit more. That’s just the way the game is. You either adapt or you get kicked out and look for another job.”
Should he solidify his position as Calgary’s No. 1, Tate intends to add more performing arts into his football repertoire.
“I’m going to do piano again next off-season and probably dance,” Tate says. “I might take ballet. I don’t even know yet. I’ve got to do something. I want to be as light as I can on my feet.”