It’s no debate that he has, so far at least, accomplished more as a member of the Edmonton Eskimos than the BC Lions. When all is said and done though, that definitely remains to be seen. Since his return to the west coast on February 12th, one thing is certain about Mike Reilly, the quarterback gunslinger from Kennewick, Washington: Lions orange still suits him. Maybe it’s a reason his proud parents, Pat and Rhonda, married 40 years last month, hung on to all of the orange gear they proudly sported at games in their son’s first stint here from 2010-2012. The quarterback was reminded of that rather quickly after he put pen to paper on his contract in the opening minutes of free agency.
“Right after I signed, my dad sent me a picture message of his couch with all of his old BC Lions gear lined up on it. He dusted that off pretty quickly,” explained the 2015 Grey Cup Most Outstanding Player.
“I’ve got some new gear that I’m going to give him, of course, but my parents are fired up. Over the last two months, they’ve really been looking at their schedule and figuring out how to come to as many games in BC as they can. I think they’ll make it to just about every home game. They’re fired up to have me on the west coast again.”
It will happen, even if the drive from his parents’ home in Kalispell, Montana is about two hours longer here than it was to Edmonton. Rest assured, they will be in the stands, back in orange.
With Easter upon us, it has served as a reminder that Reilly has become a full-fledged family man since departing for the green and gold six seasons ago. Many factors made a return to BC his most attractive option when he made the tough choice to leave a place that adopted him as one of their own. The chance to win in BC and his relationship with GM Ed Hervey was at the top. Being close to his offseason home in Seattle and spending more time with wife Emily and daughters Cadence, 2, and Brooklyn, 1, was simply icing on the cake.
Football Mike and Family Mike are similar in many ways. All in. Dedicated. Any of those adjectives you want to use, they apply. And he’s already showing his dedication to his new teammates despite it still being the off-season.
Given all of the new additions on offence, one might suggest Reilly and his new teammates wear name tags when all hands are on deck in Kamloops starting May 18th. But the quarterback has spent the majority of the last two months making sure those won’t be necessary. Earlier this week, he was on the practice field throwing to a few of his new receivers.
“April is always an interesting month because it becomes real,” said Reilly.
“You sit there thinking the offseason is going to go forever and you’ve got all these big plans to take trips and all that kind of stuff. Then once January hits you get back into all of the offseason workouts and by March that’s become a grind. You’re like, ‘I’m sick of working out, running, lifting, running and all of that stuff and not being on the field playing football.’”
An outsider may just look at it as simple pitch and catch, but any chance you have to get on the field and avoid any potential for rust once the real deal begins next month is one that needs to be taken.
“I’ve had lots of good on-field sessions with Bryan (Burnham), Lemar (Durant), and Shaq (Johnson) who was in town this week, ” added Reilly.
“Once you hit April I think as a player that reality sets in. Training camp is just around the corner and for the guys who have been doing the right thing by working out since December and January, it’s an exciting time because you know what all that work is going towards and that’s being prepared for camp.”
Now a veteran of nine CFL seasons, Reilly knows as much as anybody that there are no guarantees in pro football. Every team has high expectations on the eve of camp. Yet that hasn’t stopped him, or offensive coordinator Jarious Jackson, from getting a tad bit excited about what this offence could achieve and the headaches they could provide for defences across the league.
“Nothing is won on paper, but it certainly gives you a good opportunity,” explained Reilly of making the most out of his team’s potential.
“It’s tough to be successful when you don’t have the pieces that are necessary. We have those pieces, it’s just a matter of all of us being on the same page and that’s what’s been exciting over the past two months. With those three receivers being in town we’ve had the chance to work, but I’ve also spoken with Duron Carter on the phone at length a number of times. I had a great 30-minute talk with him a couple of days ago where, again, we’re able to talk about some of those details. Early in February, it’s like ‘okay, make sure you’re working out hard and staying in shape.’ Now we can talk Xs and Os and what we’re going to do to try and attack teams.”
“Having gotten to know all of those guys decently well during the offseason and getting to know their personalities and what makes them tick, I know what they’re capable of physically, but getting to know them on a personal level just helps us in trying to be successful. When we do get to camp it won’t feel like we’re all playing together for the first time.”
He is familiar with the market itself, but that’s also true when it comes to Jackson, the member of the coaching staff he has and will be spending the most time with this season. After they were teammates in Reilly’s first two seasons in the den, the pair also won a second Grey Cup together in Edmonton where Reilly had established himself as one of the league’s top pivots by that 2015 season and Jackson was the Eskimos’ quarterbacks coach. Jackson epitomizes a lot about what this coaching staff is all about: young, energetic and not too far removed from playing the game. Reilly believes those characteristics will be huge for the squad as it begins to conquer it’s championship goals.
“Give and take, there’s good and bad to every situation. When you have what we have, people can look at it and say ‘well, they’re not as experienced and so maybe they won’t be as prepared in certain scenarios as a more veteran group.’ On the flip side of it, I think they’re able to handle things way better because they are so, I guess for lack of a better term, fresh,” explained Reilly.
“To have a staff as we have, I think that they have the best grasp of anyone I’ve been around of what makes players tick. If you don’t know people on a personal level and understand what drives them then you’re not going to be successful. The staff that we have, that’s a huge positive that they understand the guys. Some of them are new to the coaching ranks, but DeVone has been a coach for a good amount of time, a successful coach. Obviously, Stubler has been around forever and he’s a guy that our staff can lean on in terms of experience. We have a good mix.”
Reilly and the rest of the organization are oozing with excitement as the camp countdown clock ticks toward zero. He, Emily and the girls have now settled into their apartment in New Westminster, a short hop over the bridge from the quarterback’s new/old business address. Commuting from Seattle is easy enough, but he has slowly but surely become a born-again Vancouverite. Reilly himself will stay in the lower mainland all season, while his girls commute up for a few days around home games.
“For my wife and kids, it’s gotten to the point over the last couple of weekends, because we have our living situation squared away up there, that we’ve come up for no particular reason. We have everything furnished and moved in,” added Reilly.
“It’s so close and easy to jump in the car and use our Nexus cards to get across the border. It’s been awesome the last couple of weekends just to hang out as a family in the lower mainland. That’s not really something that was possible for the last six years in Edmonton because of the travel. It’s definitely made the off-field stuff in my life a lot easier and more realistic. My wife and kids love Vancouver and the area. Every time we get close to the weekend my two-and-a-half year old says ‘I want to go to Vancouver.’ She’s definitely bought in, she’d excited. We couldn’t be happier about it. It’s a great transition.”
Never a doubt. The Lions brand still suits him just fine.