The Central Alberta Buccaneers have been a force to be reckoned with in the Alberta Football League this year.
Although the Bucs have been a contender in the eight-team AFL for the past few years, they have never been able to overcome the challenge of the two dominant teams in the league, the Calgary Gators and the Fort McMurray Monarchs, partially due to the fact that their offense wasn’t able to put up the points needed to get the job done.
That’s where new starting quarterback Brandon Leyh comes in.
“I’m feeling pretty good. I feel like myself and the receivers have been on the same page pretty much the whole year and the offense have been working really smoothly, which has been nice,” said Leyh, who originally hails from Vancouver.
A former Atlantic University Sport All-Star, Leyh was recruited by Bucs Head Coach Devon Hand earlier this year after graduating from Mount Allison University, where he spent four seasons as the starting quarterback of the Mount Allison Mounties of the CIS.
“I knew I was graduating this past April and New Brunswick is not so good at finding jobs. I’m also from B.C. as well, so I wanted to move a little bit closer to home,” said Leyh.
“Devon Hand reached out to me and said he’d help me find a job if I decided to come here and coming out of college your number one fear is finding a job, so that’s what led me to the Bucs.”
Leyh said football has been a part of his life since he was young.
“It’s always been big in the family. I’d always watch ball on Sundays with my dad,” remembered Leyh, who is a huge B.C. Lions fan.
By the time he was eight-years-old, the Vancouverite was already strapping on the pads to play games that would become part of his future.
“My dad introduced me when I was a young age, I think I was eight when I started playing, and I actually started playing defense at first and decided that I didn’t really like it so I pretty much begged my coaches to let me play quarterback,” he remembered, adding the going was a little bit rocky when he first started taking snaps.
“I was pretty horrible at first but I just stuck with it.”
It paid off, too, as he would go to quarterback the St. Thomas More Knights throughout high school, though he didn’t receive a football scholarship to any CIS school and after graduation Leyh decided to leave the game for a while.
“After high school, I actually quit football for a season and then came back because I missed it too much and I haven’t been able to quit since,” he said.
So, in 2011, Leyh joined the Langley Rams of the Canadian Junior Football League and played so well that he was offered a significant scholarship to go play CIS football at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B.
“I wanted to get away from home to go to school and Mount A is a really good academic school, so that’s what led me there,” he said, adding that playing in the CIS was always a goal for the 6’2, 230 lb. power thrower.
“It’s always been a dream to play in the CIS. I watched CIS football in high school and always wanted to play and I got that chance at Mount A.”
Leyh joined the Mounties, who play in the CIS’ Atlantic University Sport (AUS) conference, at the start of the 2012 season and never looked back.
In four years at Mount A, Leyh played 31 games, posting 24 touchdown passes, and 5,028 total passing yards with a completion percentage of 56.9.
His efforts were enough to be named a two-time AUS All-Star and lead his team to two Loney Bowl victories as the AUS champions.
Last year, Leyh graduated from Mount Allison with a Bachelor of Commerce.
Now he’s brought that elite play to the Buccaneers’ lineup, which has given a huge boost to a team that has previously been known only for their defensive prowess.
The transition to playing AFL football, he said, hasn’t been too difficult.
“There’s more depth in the CIS for sure. There are holes on every roster in the AFL. Being an experienced guy in the CIS, you game plan every week to find your opponents’ holes in their defense,” he said when asked the difference in playing at the two levels.
And he’s been spectacular at exploiting those holes. At the time of writing, Leyh leads the AFL in every QB category, tossing 1,715 yards for 23 touchdowns and no interceptions with a 67.3% completion rating.
Seven weeks into the 2016 AFL campaign, Leyh and the Bucs are the only team in league that remains undefeated with a perfect 6-0 record, enough for the local team to lock up first place in the AFL.
The B.C. man said he can’t take all of the credit, though, noting most of the team’s offensive success comes from their receiving corps, three of whom are CIS alumni themselves.
“It’s pretty easy to play quarterback when receivers are just running wild down the field wide open. So it’s not by any means because I’m that great. If the receivers are wide open I think anyone could do it,” he said, adding the offensive line has also been excellent at blocking the pass rush in front of him.
One of those receivers, Josh Blanchard, played with Leyh at Mount Allison which has helped the QB a lot both on and off the field.
“I have him and he’s a security blanket out there. On every play I can throw to him if I want to,” said Leyh, adding Blanchard has also helped speed up the adjustment to life on the Prairies.
“It’s been great. I live with him right now and we’re both kind of growing up with real careers and jobs but also being kids as well. It’s made the whole experience that much easier.”
Now the attention turns to continuing the great run that the Bucs have enjoyed over the past seven weeks.
“We’ve just got to keep on executing. Even though we’re scoring a lot of points we’re not really as crisp as we should be. We’re making pretty ridiculous mistakes for the most part. I don’t think we’re even near our peak, which is exciting for us. I’m just excited to see what can happen when we can finally put it all together.”