Being the starting quarterback in the most passionate football province in all of Canada certainly has its perks. It also has its downs, and for five seasons, Darian Durant has seen his share of each with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Born in Florence, South Carolina, Durant played his college ball at the University of North Carolina – a BCS school in the Atlantic Coast Conference – and so he is not shy to passion and playing for the pride of not only himself, his family, and his teammates, but also a fan base.
His younger brother Justin, a linebacker for the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, says his older brother taught him everything he knows about what it takes to become a man and become a leader on the football field.
Over the course of five years as the starting quarterback for the Roughriders, Durant has certainly proved himself as a passionate leader – one capable of making things happen at the right times – as proof, his back-to-back Grey Cup appearances in 2009 and 2010.
Appearances would of course be the key word there, as Durant and the Riders were in the “L” column in both circumstances, losing to the Montreal Alouettes by a combined total of four points in the two games, including the infamous “13th man” penalty.
At that point, Durant became the first starting quarterback to lose back-to-back Grey Cup games to the same opponent since Joe Barnes, then with the Montreal Alouettes, but also a former Roughrider quarterback.
On Sunday, Durant improved his West Division playoff record to an astounding 5-1, while exacting revenge against a Calgary Stampeders team that had snatched victory away from the Riders in the final minute of the 2012 semi-final.
After a red hot start to the 2013 campaign, Durant seemed rejuvenated under new offensive coordinator George Cortez, having not thrown a single interception until Labour Day against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
That first interception turned into a few more, and suddenly the Saskatchewan Roughriders had lost control of the West Division, ultimately falling to second place where they would stay for the remainder of the season.
As the leaves fell to the ground, trees became bare, and snow started to fall to the ground, all was safe with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, as it was playoff time. Or, as it may soon become known in the province of Saskatchewan, “Darian Durant season”.
Having yet to turn the ball over in two playoff wins over the BC Lions and Stampeders, Durant’s next mission is to take down one of his mentors.
During the 2007 season in which he won a Grey Cup with the Roughriders serving as the team’s third-string quarterback, the head coach of the team was Kent Austin. Austin is of course now the head coach of the Riders Grey Cup opponent, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
On Sunday, Durant looks to make franchise history in becoming just the fourth quarterback to ever win a Grey Cup Championship for the Saskatchewan Roughriders – one of those quarterbacks being Kent Austin.
Currently, Durant sits 24th all-time in passing yards in the regular season, and you won’t find many more quarterbacks ahead of him who had to wait a longer period of time to taste glory for the first time as a starting quarterback.
Dave Dickenson (33), Kerry Joseph (34), Henry Burris (33), and Danny McManus (34) are the only four quarterbacks ahead of Durant on the passing list who won the Grey Cup at a later age than he currently is, at 31. Dickenson and McManus both took three tries to get the elusive ring, and with the exception of Joseph, the other three all won a Grey Cup as a back-up.
In a province where football is king, Durant’s workmanlike playoff performances have complimented an impassioned fan base perfectly, and with a win in the 101st Grey Cup game, he would cement his legacy in franchise history alongside two of his biggest mentors – Kerry Joseph and Kent Austin.