The Alouettes officially announced the signing of the McMaster Marauders quarterback to a two-year deal Tuesday. What makes the move unique is Quinlan, 23, a native of South Woodslee, Ont., becomes just the second Canadian quarterback in the CFL behind Brad Sinopoli of the Calgary Stampeders.
Sinopoli, a native of Peterborough, Ont., captured the 2010 Hec Crighton Trophy as Canadian university football's top player while with the Ottawa Gee-Gees before being drafted by the Stampeders last year.
The plight of the Canadian quarterback in the CFL has been a hot-button topic for years, with spirited debate about why Canucks don't get more opportunities to play the position professionally north of the border. But the six-foot-three, 215-pound Quinlan is already facing enough of an uphill battle trying to crack the roster of a perennial Grey Cup contender that he doesn't want to be further burdened by the weight of expectation.
"I try not to put that on myself," Quinlan said. "I know that's definitely a big story and it gains a lot of attention.
"But at the end of the day I just try to be the best player I can be regardless of nationality and just play football."
Quinlan was instrumental in leading McMaster to its first-ever Vanier Cup title last season despite serving a three-game suspension after being charged with two counts of assaulting an officer and one count of assault in a campus pub incident. Quinlan eventually pleaded guilty to causing a disturbance and received a one-year conditional sentence.
His legal issues didn't hurt his play as he completed 65 per cent of his passes in the regular season with 13 touchdowns and just two interceptions. In the playoffs, he was named MVP in the Yates Cup, Uteck Bowl and Vanier Cup.
Quinlan capped his season in style, leading McMaster to a thrilling 41-38 double overtime Vanier Cup win over Laval. He finished 36-of-55 passing for 482 yards and two touchdowns while also running for a team-high 106 yards.
Quinlan participated in the CFL evaluation camp in March but was bypassed in the league's draft Thursday. But the disappointment of not being selected quickly turned to jubilation early Monday when the Alouettes came calling.
"I prepared myself going into the draft because I kept hearing it was deep," Quinlan said. "And once it began I saw some of my buddies and guys I knew around the (OUA) were slipping so I was more realistic about my prospects later on.
"When I was passed over I was immediately looking forward to hopefully getting an invite to camp and luckily it came pretty quick."
Attending Montreal's camp would present Quinlan with a terrific opportunity to learn the nuances of pro football from one of the league's best in Alouettes starter Anthony Calvillo, the most prolific passer in pro football history (over 73,000 yards and counting). There are precious few defensive wrinkles Calvillo hasn't seen — and conquered — over his illustrious career and the Alouettes take advantage of his overall football knowledge by having Calvillo involved in the formation of the weekly offensive gameplan.
And then there's Alouettes head coach Marc Trestman, who not only has won two Grey Cups in his four seasons in Montreal but served as an offensive co-ordinator and quarterbacks coach in both the NFL and NCAA ranks before arriving in Canada.
"When you study Quinlan's film, you see he's an interesting guy," Alouettes GM Jim Popp said. "But any player, not just a quarterback, has to adjust to the speed of our game and the complexities of the game, especially with our systems because they're very, very complex.
"The thing is people have to be realistic and understand it's a process for any player and not just a quarterback. We'll have to monitor how well he (Quinlan) takes it all in. You're talking about 2 1/2, three weeks of training camp. He'll be in a whirlwind but he will get access to good tutor time and points of specialized training."
Especially considering Trestman has also worked with many top NCAA quarterbacks to help improve their throwing mechanics and overall draft stock. Most notable was former Florida star Tim Tebow before he was taken in the first round, 25th overall, by the Denver Broncos in the 2010 NFL draft.
"I'm extremely excited to be able to work coach Trestman and his staff and to also be alongside players like Anthony Calvillo and (veteran backup) Adrian McPherson and the rest of those guys," Quinlan said. "(Calvillo) is one of the best to ever play the game and coach Trestman is a quarterback guru so I'm ecstatic about the opportunity to be out there."
Cracking Montreal's lineup won't be easy as the first two quarterback spots are already spoken for with Calvillo and McPherson. There will be solid competition for the No. 3 spot with fourth-year pro Ricky Santos and sophomore Josh Neiswander, both imports, also vying for the spot.
At least Quinlan won't be heading into Montreal's camp cold. He took part in the Hamilton Tiger-Cats' training camp last season and learned some valuable lessons there.
"There will be many challenges, for sure, but I got a sense for it last year at the Ticats camp," Quinlan said. "The speed of the game was the thing that jumped out the most, windows are much smaller so you have to be much more accurate with the football and process your reads a lot faster.
"But (being a rookie) doesn't change my approach and I'd be doing a disservice to myself if I didn't go in there to try and compete as hard as a I can. That's what I'm going to do and in the process try to learn as much as I can as well."
Should Quinlan be released by the Alouettes, his football career won't be over. He's eligible to return to McMaster in the fall.
"That is a nice bonus because if it works out or not I know I'll be playing football for a great club next year," Quinlan said. "The combination of how respected Montreal is as a program while having coach Trestman and his staff and guys like Calvillo and McPherson, it's a great situation for me."