TORONTO — To say the last week was a whirlwind for Nick Arbuckle would be an understatement.
The 27-year-old’s phone has been blowing up over the past few days after he signed a new deal to join the Toronto Argonauts.
“I still haven’t had a chance to get back to everybody yet. I had to just put my phone down and relax,” Arbuckle said on Wednesday. “Eric (Rogers) and Bresc (Juwan Brescacin) are guys that I’ve been talking to throughout the off-season and they were the first people to welcome me and congratulate me.
“…Just so many people and coaches have reached out to me and it’s been a tremendous feeling to know that so many people are excited for me to be there just as I’m excited to be there.”
It’s been a long road to get to his first chance to be a full-time starter with a CFL organization, but he’ll be given that shot to be the man for the Boatmen in 2021.
Arbuckle was one of the hottest commodities at the quarterback position following a 2019 campaign that saw him start seven games for the Calgary Stampeders.
He was forced into relief duty after Bo Levi Mitchell went down with a pectoral injury in the team’s Week 3 matchup with the BC Lions. He’d lead the team through the middle portion of the season before Mitchell returned in Week 12.
Arbuckle showed off his ability to run an offence during that span, completing 73 percent of his passes for 2,103 yards and 11 touchdowns with five interceptions.
That output put him on the radar of multiple CFL squads heading into the 2020 off-season.
Once free agency neared, his two likely landing spots were Toronto and Ottawa. Because of his connection with former Stamps quarterbacks coach Ryan Dinwiddie, many expected him to sign in Toronto, but the REDBLACKS moved quickly, acquiring his rights before he hit the market.
He signed on with Ottawa shortly after. But after the cancellation of the 2020 season, the two sides tried to restructure his contract — something that didn’t end up happening.
Arbuckle was released by the REDBLACKS on Jan 31, a year to the day that he inked his two-year contract with the organization.
“It’s been a really crazy adventure for the last 12 months,” Arbuckle said. “Ever since last season ended and I was going into free agency last year, it’s just been full of life events, both football-wise and non-football wise.
“We moved out to Ottawa shortly after free agency and we had our baby here. Then, we went through the turbulence and not knowing when the season was going to happen and COVID and the lockdown. And then this year, going into free agency not knowing I was going to become a free agent.
“But going through the contract restructuring phase, I didn’t expect or foresee not being back in Ottawa up until maybe the weekend.”
Arbuckle admitted that he’s still dealing with the shock move, but the support of his wife and people around the league has helped him during the last few days.
His wife, Zakiyyah, has been with him throughout his football journey. The pair met at Georgia State University and have been together through the ups and downs. Arbuckle added that Zakiyyah has always made the best of any situation and has always been open to going wherever they are wanted.
In May, the couple welcomed their first daughter, Aaliyah, into the world. At that point during a regular season, Arbuckle would be spending most of his time in the facility, preparing for training camp and the year as a whole. But the pause and eventual cancellation of the season presented him with a blessing in disguise, as he was able to spend that time with his family.
“It was the biggest blessing I could have ever asked for,” Arbuckle said. “It’s obviously not the circumstances I would have desired to become a stay-at-home-dad and be there every day. Nobody wants to lose their job in a sense where you don’t get to go to work and get paid for what you’re doing. But the opportunity to be there every single day, from the birth all the way up every single day, never missing a moment, getting to notice every time she makes a new noise, not missing a milestone, not missing anything.
“Even now, when I’m going to train for two or three hours, I’ve missed our baby. I want to get back to her, spend time with her, cuddle her, and play with her more. It’s definitely going to be a change once we get this season rolling and I’m at the facility for most of the day.
“I can’t wait to start football but I’m not looking forward to being away from our daughter for that much of the day. But I know it’s an adjustment we have to make and it was just a blessing to have this much time, for the entire first year of her life.”
After a year-long layover in the nation’s capital, they have found themselves in a great situation with the Argos, with several familiar faces for Arbuckle to gel with.
Alongside Dinwiddie, who will also serve as the team’s offensive coordinator, Toronto has also added former Stampeders teammates in Rogers, Brescacin, and DaVaris Daniels to the receiving corps.
On the defensive side of the ball, the team also acquired the rights to Cordarro Law and Robertson Daniel — the defensive back has just signed with the team for 2021 while Law remains a pending free agent.
“I couldn’t be happier to be in the situation I’m in now,” Arbuckle said. “It was a long way around to try and get to Toronto. But in the end, being back with Dinwiddie and a lot of the players that I’m familiar with and the coaching staff is excellent.
“I can’t wait to get down there so I feel like I’m in the place that I’m supposed to be.”
Toronto has been looking for their next franchise quarterback for a number of years since the retirement of Ricky Ray.
Arbuckle has the opportunity to be the man under centre for the future, and while the quarterback situation is still unclear behind him, he’s the unquestioned starter heading into the 2021 campaign.
Whether he’s the quarterback of the future remains to be seen, but Arbuckle is choosing to pay attention to the task ahead of him this year rather than what’s to come after that.
“Really, my focus and what I’m going to be working on moving forward is being the best quarterback I could possibly be to give Toronto the best chance to win every game and make sure that we can compete to win a Grey Cup,” Arbuckle said. “I’m not too focused on the history or the legacy of what happened in Toronto before. I respect the people that have done really great things — I know Toronto has won a lot of Grey Cups and had a ton of Hall-of-Fame players, including the general manager.
“It’s an incredible legacy, but moving forward, I’m just focusing on what I can control and what I can accomplish on the field and making sure I’m the best quarterback I can possibly be for Toronto.”
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