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May 17, 2019

Mini-Camp Wrap Up | Apodaca Ready To Compete

Kamloops- He attended 2017 training camp with the Blue Bombers and was part of Montreal’s unforgettable quarterback carousel a season ago, suiting up in four games. Two relatively small cups of coffee for Austin Apodaca, the quarterback from Longmont, Colorado. After three days of practice with the Lions’ rookies at Hillside Stadium, Apodaca is now looking for the full meal combo in his third professional stop since leaving the University of New Mexico.

“It’s been good, man. A learning process for sure. I’m trying to take advantage of the coaching staff and the way they help me, ” said Apodaca following Friday practice.

” I’m just trying to get better every single day and make progress every day. The CFL game, there are different nuances about it with the waggle and different parts of the offence so I’m just trying to take everything I learned in Winnipeg and Montreal you know, conceptually, and apply it here. There is different terminology and what not, but it’s a good offence and the coaching staff has really been helpful. Coach Tate and Coach Jackson, I’ve really learned a lot from them and I’m trying to get better.”

With the battle to dress behind Mike Reilly promising to be a big one over the next couple of weeks, Apodaca has at least shown he is capable of competing with incumbent Ricky Lloyd and fellow newcomer Cole Sears for the right to start the season as number two on the depth chart. Seeing as he is no stranger to the training camp routine, Apodaca knows all he can do is embrace the opportunity to share the field with all of the other quarterbacks.

“Absolutely. That (competition) is the name of the game up here,” he said.

“We’re pro football players so I just have to take it one step a time. I’m not trying to look ahead too far. Any rep that I get, I’m going to try to take advantage of. The reps I don’t get, I’m going to be back there learning.”

And when asked about the chance to learn from Reilly himself, he could hardly contain the excitement and motivation to share the field with the 2015 Grey Cup Most Valuable Player.

“I’m really looking forward to it. I think he’s the best quarterback in the CFL,” stated Apodaca.

“That’s obviously for a reason. I’m sure he puts in a lot of work, he knows the game really well. I’m just going to try to emulate everything he does from concepts to scheme to technique on his drops. Everything he does, I’m going to try to do it too.”

The son of a high school football coach in suburban Denver, Apodaca picked up the game at a young age and played in 11 games for Washington State in his freshman year of college. After one season of junior college in Mesa, Arizona, he found a fit at New Mexico where he completed 110 passes for 1,377 yards and eight touchdowns in 21 contests. He’ll never forget his most memorable one.

“I think the Hawaii game my junior year stands out the most,” he recalls.

“It was a game winner to one of my good buddies, just a last-second win on a hitch and go double move. That stands out. I had a good time at New Mexico. We won a lot of games in the two years I was there and made a lot of friendships. It was good. My family got to see a lot of games because we were only six hours away. I had a fun college career and I’m proud of it for sure.”

And now he is approaching this camp as if he has his entire career ahead of him.

“I’m happy to be playing still. I’m 25 years old, sometimes I feel like I’m a little older (laughs), but I’m excited to be here. I’m a pro football player and it’s a blessing.”

Coach Claybrooks Weighs In On Mini-Camp

Head Coach DeVone Claybrooks had plenty to be happy about as the pre-cursor to main camp wrapped up on Friday and the quarterback competition was near the top of the list.

“They’ve got some spin on the ball,” said the head coach.

“They’re picking up the system, which is not an easy system to pick up. They had the occasional mental breakdown, they revert back to college habits, but that comes with muscle memory reps. The most important thing is to take advantage of the reps you get in rookie camp because those reps will be limited as the vets get here and those type of things. They did a good job of responding.”

Judging rookies against other rookies is always a tricky proposition. But like many previous camps of its kind, this one showed plenty of athleticism on both sides of the ball. That was evident in Friday morning’s one-on-one drills. Claybrooks also had a positive review for Mexican receivers Gerardo Alvarez and Fernando Richarte, both of whom showed their speed on day three.

“You wouldn’t know that they were the Mexican players,” explained Claybrooks.

“They’re fitting in nicely and when you’re able to get guys that don’t stick out like they don’t belong and they’re supposed to be here, that’s what you want.”

Defensive lineman Octavio Gonzalez continues to recover from a broken foot suffered five weeks ago in a LFA contest.

Above everything else, Claybrooks is happy to be back on the field coaching football in his new role as Lions sideline boss. And it can be nothing but a great sign that these three practice days have likely made for some tough decisions at many different positions before the roster gets trimmed down on Saturday.

“It’s been fun to be back out here, ” he said.

“This is where you feel like you’re home and where you’re meant to be. Guys came out and did a great job and they made some tough decisions and things like that. It’s a good problem to have because Ed, Geroy and Torey gave us some great talent to choose from. It was great competition out here. Very energetic practices and you can’t ask for anything more than that.”

Training Camp Beckons

Lions veterans were to report to the Surrey facility for physicals on Friday before making the trip up to Kamloops on Saturday. It all begins Sunday morning at Hillside Stadium from 8:30-10:30 AM and the afternoon session from 3:00-5:15 PM. All practices are open to the public. The full 2019 training camp schedule can be found HERE.

Matt Baker: mbaker@bclions.com