To kick off the first week of the football regular season, we’re taking a pigskin spin on “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.” Today’s installment for something new includes a look at a quarterback making his American high school debut.
In Christian Strong’s corner of the locker room, life is good. No matter what he does, Strong cannot keep himself from smiling. He knows he will take the field as Countryside’s quarterback Friday, his first regular-season start in an American high school game, and that knowledge alone sends his heart rate racing.
“I’m excited,” Strong said. “This is what I’ve been waiting for.”
Strong was born in Ottawa and led his high school team to a league title last season. He moved to Clearwater in the spring and joined a veteran, balanced Cougars program that viewed him as the heir successor to Gray Crow, who is now at Miami.
Strong, a senior, spent the past six months learning what was required to chisel an American high school quarterback from the raw talent that propelled him to the top of the Canadian heap.
The transition can be tough. Only two Canadian-born quarterbacks have ever started an NFL game, Mark Rypien and Jesse Palmer.
It’s tough for Canadian-born quarterbacks to even shine as professionals in their own game. The Canadian Football League has had just one home-grown quarterback, Giulio Caravatta, start in the past 16 years.
It has not been easy at the high school level, either. In 2009, Alex Skinner was battling to be the starting quarterback at Largo but moved back to Canada midway through the season.
The Canadian game is more wide open. It is played on a longer and wider field than in the United States and the rules are designed to increase scoring. The field is condensed here. Throws are tighter. There are no running starts for receivers. Defensive players are bigger, stronger and faster.
It is enough to overwhelm most quarterbacks. But Strong said the learning curve is not that steep because he already is familiar with the American game.
Strong moved to the Palm Harbor area just before his first birthday. He played in the youth leagues before moving back to Canada when he was 12. This year he decided to move in with relatives in Clearwater.
“I just missed a lot of the friends I grew up with,” Strong said. “I wanted to be with them my last year of high school. Being able to play football in the states was just a bonus.”
In the offseason, Strong worked with John Kaleo and Chip Bennett, who both schooled Strong on the physical mechanics of quarterbacking, from arm angle to footwork.
Strong also studied the playbook and game film, soaking up everything he could about how to direct Countryside’s offense.
“The big thing is he has a desire to learn,” Cougars coach Jared Davis said. “And he loves watching football. He played in Canada, but he still was a fan of the American game and watched college and NFL games whenever he could.”
Strong has everything in place to succeed. The Cougars have a big, veteran offensive line. Dependable receivers such as AJ Sattinger and Marreio Taylor. And a surplus of running backs.
“I’ve been able to get my feet wet,” Strong said. “Football here is more organized. There’s more passion and more want. It’s a year-long sport. I had a late start, but I’ve been able to get everything down. There are a lot of high expectations here, and I can’t wait to get started.”