Casey Therriault is a quarterback with a troubled past, but the B.C. Lions are determined to give the ex-convict a chance.
And he is determined to make the best of it.
Therriault, 23, who served six months in county jail for manslaughter for an incident outside a Michigan nightclub when he was 18, joined B.C.'s practice roster Wednesday. After searching unsuccessfully for opportunities in the NFL, he hopes to build a bright future in the CFL.
"This is the one organization that gave me an opportunity to play again and trusted in me and my character, and it means a lot to me," he said Wednesday after his first practice with the Lions at their Surrey, B.C., training facility. "As of this point, I'm fully in debt to this organization and this football team."
Therriault paid his debt to society after he came home to Grand Rapids, Mich., for Christmas from College of the Sequoias, a California junior college. He became involved with friends in the fateful incident. Although reports indicate he only threw one punch in retaliation, others later joined in and the victim, Jonathan Krystiniak, died of his injuries.
Therriault pled guilty and served half a year in Kent County Correctional Facility, located in his hometown.
"Not a whole lot happens [in county jail]," he said. "You go there, you reflect, you learn a lot and, hopefully, you can move on."
After serving his time, he completed a work-release program in a restaurant, making pizza and washing dishes, and then enrolled at Grand Rapids Community College. He threw for 2,169 yards and 24 touchdowns while leading his team to a 9-2 record and a berth in a junior college national final. The strong second campaign followed a 9-1 mark in his first year.
But no major colleges showed interest and he moved to Jackson State, a predominantly black college in Jackson, Miss., the alma mater of late Chicago Bears star Walter Payton. Known as the White Tiger because of his skin colour, Therriault threw for 7,227 yards and 58 touchdowns in two seasons at Jackson State and earned Southwestern Athletic Conference Newcomer of the Year and first-team all-SWAC quarterback honours.
"I loved every minute of it [at Jackson State]," he said. "I wouldn't trade it back for anything."
The signal-caller signed for a year and an option with the Lions after his troubles obtaining a passport delayed the club's efforts to bring him to its rookie camp in June. His arrival gives B.C. five quarterbacks.
Former West Virginia quarterback Jarrett Brown also joined the Lions on Wednesday, the first day CFL clubs were allowed to expand their practice rosters to a maximum of 12 players.
Coach Mike Benevides indicated Therriault will ultimately judged by his abilities on the field, but the team checked into his personal qualities.
"There was enough questions asked, enough things talked about, that we were satisfied, from people that know him from some of the people that know him from a character point of view, that all those things aren't necessarily who he is today," said Benevides.
He liked what he saw of Therriault's focus, but as per custom at this late point in the regular season, the Lions are making additions primarily as part of their long-term planning for future seasons. In other words, Therriault faces another long haul to become a Lions regular.
"My intentions are to be here and play for them," he said. "Obviously, I see a lot for myself and my capabilities. Right now, it's just a learning process."
As he learns B.C.'s offensive system, he is also determined to prove his winner's "aura" and strong character in spite of his legal difficulties.
"Whether it's in front of 1,000 people or by myself behind closed doors, I'll be doing the right thing," he said.
The Lions also added former Georgia wide receiver Michael Moore, 26, and ex-UCLA defensive end Korey Bosworth, 25, on Wednesday. Bosworth is the nephew of former NFL star Brian (The Boz) Bosworth, a well known free spirit who tested positive for steroids while playing college football at Oklahoma and had his career with the Seattle Seahawks cut short after just three seasons due to a knee injury.
Korey Bosworth, who has played as a hybrid rush end/linebacker, said his uncle was a mentor for him and his twin brother Kyle, who now starts for Jacksonville of the NFL.
Like Therriault, Bosworth, who joined the Lions after being released by the Oakland Raiders, is grateful for a chance to prove himself with the Lions.
"It's just an opportunity," said Bosworth of his practice roster addition. "You've gotta come in somewhere. It got me in the door and, after that point, it's all on the player. So it's up to me now."
Although most of the newcomers are not in B.C.'s immediate plans, one player is. Ekom Udofia, a 25-year-old defensive tackle who joined the Lions out of Stanford on Tuesday, will likely play Saturday against Calgary due to injuries to Khalif Mitchell (thigh) who is expected to miss his second straight game and Eric Taylor (back).