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Troy Smith: A breath of fresh heir in Montreal

Montreal Alouettes quarterback Troy Smith throws a pass against the Toronto Argonauts during first half CFL football action in Toronto, on Friday, Nov. 1, 2013.


Some objects, when propelled at extremely high velocity, make a distinctive sound.

Like an artillery shell. Or a football.

When you find yourself on a gridiron with the rocket-armed guy in the No.3 jersey, you don't see the pigskin as much as you hear it.

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Montreal Alouettes quarterback Troy Smith doesn't merely throw the ball, he heaves the thing with intent.

"The first week he was here I noticed in practice it just sounded different when he threw, it whistled. And he was doing it without any visible effort," said Als centre Luc Brodeur-Jourdain, who is well-accustomed to having footballs zip past his ears.

But a big arm does not a successful quarterback make, and since arriving in Montreal this summer as the latest in a long line of presumptive heirs to surefire Hall of Fame pivot Anthony Calvillo, Smith has demonstrated other assets.

Poise, for one, as well as quick thinking and confidence.

"He's shown an ability to adapt very, very quickly," said head coach/general manager Jim Popp, who had been monitoring the 29-year-old Smith for several years before ultimately approaching him this spring.

Smith was released by the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers in 2012, and had been working at his alma mater, Ohio State University, when the call from Canada came.

Popp was initially drawn to Smith's physical tools but was sold on his maturity.

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It's been a circuitous ascent for the former Buckeyes quarterback, who has experienced the highs of accepting the Heisman Trophy as the best player in U.S. college football.

And, he's experienced the trials of scuffling as a backup in the minor pro United Football League.There have been some personal tribulations along the way as well.

Smith was born in Columbus, but developed his interest in football in a scruffy part of Cleveland – he spent part of his youth living with the family of his midget football coach as his mother struggled with a series of personal problems, including a drug-related arrest.

At Ohio State, Smith was briefly suspended for accepting cash from a booster, but also flashed enough talent to earn the starting job and be named MVP of the Fiesta Bowl.

For a short time, he was a starting NFL quarterback – his first opportunity, with the Baltimore Ravens in 2008, evaporated when he contracted Lemierre's syndrome, a rare and potentially life-threatening neck condition.

His next chance, with the San Francisco 49ers (he started five games in 2010) petered out amid inconsistent performances, and he was replaced by erstwhile starter Alex Smith, now with the Kansas City Chiefs.

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It appears the football vagabond has found a new playing home, even if Smith isn't willing to say so out loud.

"I haven't thought about it like that. To me, once you do that you're starting to count your newspaper clippings," Smith said Thursday. "I think it's about staying the course, staying even-keeled, it's about understanding that everything happens because of everyone around you, not just you. So I'm just living in the moment."

Though he came to the Als in August expecting to sit out the bulk of the year as he acclimatized to the Canadian game, Smith has been thrust into the starting role because of a season-ending concussion suffered by Calvillo and the uneven play of backups Josh Neiswander and Tanner Marsh.

"It definitely sped up on me, and football lets you know that you have to be there for your teammates at any drop of a dime," Smith said.

Last week, Smith led the Als (8-10) to victory over the Toronto Argonauts (who mostly played their second stringers), and will make his fourth consecutive CFL start in Sunday's East Division semi-final against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at their temporary home in Guelph, Ont.

He seems unfazed by the challenge – he has played in pressure moments before, including the 2007 BCS championship where he had a poor outing and Ohio State lost to Florida.

The Als will be playing the Ticats (10-8) for the third time in four weeks – they split the first two games – and the Hamilton defence may see more of Smith's athleticism and running ability than in previous viewings.

"We've definitely put some wrinkles in there for the things they're doing defensively," he said with a twinkle.

Though Smith is polished and businesslike in public and with the media, teammates say that melts away in the locker room.

There he's just another jokester, albeit one with a long football résumé.

"He seems serious, but he's the funniest guy in the room," rookie wideout Duron Carter said.

For all that, Smith clearly understands his situation; Brodeur-Jourdain says he is as studious as any of the team's quarterbacks (Calvillo is renowned for being an obsessive tape-watcher, and his influence has rubbed off on the club).

Smith is also careful to acknowledge the fact the Als remain Calvillo's team, even if the latter's praise of Smith earlier this week may eventually be seen as a passing-of-the-torch moment.

Calvillo will accompany the team to Guelph this week, and Smith said: "It's a comfortable situation for me to know the leader of this team has everyone's back, including mine."

Smith could end up being Montreal's full-time starter next year – though the 41-year-old Calvillo is under contract for one more season, it would surprise no one if he were to retire – but for now he says he's only focused on the immediate task at hand.

Indeed, Smith said he's barely had the chance to take in his new surroundings.

"My head's in the playbook. I do know what poutine is, though," he said with a smile.

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About the Author
National Correspondent

Sean Gordon joined the Globe's Quebec bureau in 2008 and covers the Canadiens, Alouettes and Impact, as well as Quebec's contingent of Olympic athletes. More


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