First-year starter posts wants to help CFL club get back to ‘great years’

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Jake Maier knows the score in Calgary.

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He knows the history of the city’s football club and how much it was thriving before his arrival three years ago.

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And the young quarterback wants to help the Calgary Stampeders return to those glory days.

“How can we get back to what the Calgary Stampeders were in the 2000s in the mid-teens and some of those great years?” Maier asked during the team’s final day of the 2023 CFL season at McMahon Stadium. “How can we get back to that? How can we build that?

“Those are conversations I look forward to having,” Maier continued. “Because the expectation I have every single year is that we’re gonna be one of the top contenders in the league. And this year, we were not. You can easily say we weren’t even really close to that status.

“So that’s super disappointing.”

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Indeed, a 6-12 regular-season record followed by a quick playoff exit at the hands of the host B.C. Lions in last Saturday’s 41-30 West Division semifinal proved super disappointing — and then some — for most everyone involved with a franchise that has strung together 18 straight trips to the CFL post-season.

And the easy place to point the blame is at the quarterback.

“Yeah, it started off slow — that’s for sure,” Maier said. “Wasn’t a ton to be proud of, especially in the first half of the season there. And we can lay out all the reasons for that and all the excuses for that, but bottom line is we need to be better at handling those things throughout the season.

“And I felt like in the second half of the season we did. We played better football in the second half of the season. Our offence played better football in the second half of the season. So I am proud of that. And I am proud of the specific games that we were able to win down the stretch to get us the opportunity to play (in the playoffs). That’s really all you want is an opportunity.”

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Has Maier himself been given enough opportunity to bring the Stampeders back into contention?

That’s a question many fans are asking after a six-win struggle.

The 2023 campaign marked his first full year as the Stamps’ undisputed starting QB and that role was undeniably a struggle for him.

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Maier’s numbers were pretty strong for the most part. Only the Lions’ Vernon Adams (4,769) and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Zach Collaros (4,263) — arguably the league’s top-two pivots — threw for more yards than Maier’s 4,237. But his 62.8% completion percentage and low touchdown total (just 19) hurt the Stamps attack.

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And proving to be even more detrimental to the team’s bottom line were the untimely interceptions tossed by the Red and White QB.

Case in point, Saturday’s early INT thrown with the Stamps up 7-0 and driving for more, to Lions defensive back Garry Peters, who stepped in front of veteran receiver Reggie Begelton.

It could be argued that pick was the turning point — albeit one the Stamps could’ve bounced back from — in the playoff loss.

“That was tough,” Maier admitted of the play. “That wasn’t something we dwelled on too much. Garry Peters is an all-star for a reason. He saw it. He saw it pre-snap. He saw the way we were trying to switch release and he jumped it.

“Probably a throw I shouldn’t have made and that puts Reggie in a tough spot, too, because he’s got the ability to kind of have a two-way go there. He can break in or he can break out, and he felt like he made the right decision to break in.”

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“The pick that Peters had, I could put a lot of that one on me just because of my technique when I went into that particular route,” Begelton agreed. “Good for him for making that pick, but I could’ve avoided it just on what I could’ve done better.”

Perhaps it’s a pick Maier doesn’t throw as a more experienced quarterback.

And that’s something GM/head coach Dave Dickenson is banking on with the former NCAA UC Davis Aggies QB at the controls next year — and maybe beyond.

“I thought he did a nice job in this game,” Dickenson said of Maier’s effort — 23-of-34 for 304 yards and two touchdowns against two interceptions — in the semifinal. “I know after last year’s playoff game, he wanted to atone and have a better game — and he did. But as a team on the season, we have to be better offensively. We didn’t score enough in what I call the green zone — basically from the 20-yard-line and in. We’ve got to make more plays, we’ve got to win more one-on-one battles, we’ve got to make throws that guys can catch …

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“I’ve always liked what Jake’s brought. He’s a great leader. He works extremely hard. And he’s young. So I’ve got faith that he’s going to do the right things in the off-season to be a better player. We do understand that the best teams have the best quarterback play, so that’s what we’re looking to get.”

The catch is Maier, 26, is still young.

Success doesn’t come for most QBs right away.

Take, for comparison, his counterpart Saturday.

“I thought it was really cool to hear about how Vernon Adams played one of the most phenomenal football games we’ve ever seen from a quarterback perspective and that was kind of his first playoff game — and he’s been in the league for a while now,” Maier added after watching the Lions pivot go off for 413 yards and five TDs on 28-of-39 passing plus some timely QB keepers. “So I just think everybody’s journey is different and you never know when your time is gonna come. You just always have to be prepared for it.

“You’re going to go through these things early in your career, and you become so much better for it. And I’m going to be 100 times better for this year.”

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