Leader Of The Herd: Catellier Ready for Senior Season
As senior Manitoba Bisons quarterback Des Catellier embarks on his final U SPORTS season, there’s no denying the impact he’s left on the program. Statistically, he has the highest completion percentage in school history at 60.7 and has rightfully led the offence for the last three-and-a-half years. His courage in the face of adversity and tireless work ethic motivate those around him and have cemented him as the leader of the ‘Herd.
The product of powerhouse St. Francis in Calgary has endured injuries – one of which occurred while in a battle for the starting spot in 2017 – and losing seasons, but has never lost sight of the end goal. He returned in ’17 to lead Manitoba to their first win of the season, and has engineered game-winning drives on numerous occasions throughout his career. And while he jokes that his record as starter may not be the greatest (9-12 overall), it’s the lessons learned during points of adversity that have helped set Catellier and the rest of the Manitoba Bisons roster up for success coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Everything is an opportunity to learn at the end of the day,” he says.
“During an injury, you find yourself, because you can’t play the sport you love. You have to be in the therapy room, you can’t work out, you can’t do a lot of things. I think you really have to find yourself and find your love for the game. It pushes you harder. It makes you want it more, it makes you appreciate it more. I think you find yourself a little bit during times of adversity.”
“I’ve had a lot of adversity during my career here,” he continued. “We haven’t won a lot of games. I’ve probably lost more games that I’ve won here if I’m being honest. It’s all learning experiences. You learn through those moments, bad plays, bad games and many losses. Through the losses, if you can overcome that and keep a strong mentality, that’s what’s going to grow you into a champion eventually.”
Look no further than the 2017 season finale for an example of the latter portion of Catellier’s statement. The Bisons had already been mathematically eliminated from contention at 2-5, while Saskatchewan needed a 37-point victory to win a tie-break over the Alberta Golden Bears for the final playoff spot in the Canada West conference. Down 22-0 halfway through the third quarter and 32-15 with 11 minutes to play, Catellier was unfazed, throwing three touchdown passes in the final three minutes to help the Herd shock the Huskies at home.
The game served as a massive confidence builder for Catellier, who entered the following season as the bona-fide number one guy under centre after sharing duties with Theo Deezar previously. Manitoba made the playoffs for the first time with the Calgary kid in 2018, and last season they nearly pulled off another massive comeback in the semi-finals against Calgary – the eventual Vanier Cup champions – scoring 30 points in the final frame including a hail-Mary on the last play of regulation.
“It didn’t mean a thing, but it was pride on the line, and for me, it was a little bit of a coming out party,” reflected Catellier on the 2017 tilt against the Huskies.
“I’d come in and started a couple of games and had a little bit of success, but I also had a lot of struggles. Even throughout that game I was struggling, and it just felt like I figured it out. Finally it all came together. The field felt open, I just felt confident and in a flow. People talk about a state of flow, and that’s the first time I felt that at this level. I feel like I’ve been able to find that continuously throughout my career since that moment.”
That was such an important part for me, and learning in Canadian football that you can always win. I feel like that’s been a mantra for me throughout my career and it started in that game,” he added.
“It doesn’t matter if we’re down by 17 points with four minutes left, we can score three touchdowns right now. We’ve done it before and we’ve done it many a times since then. We’ve been that kind of team that’s scoring points at the end. I feel like it’s happened many times. In 2019 obviously we played against Calgary and Regina, scoring points late in games. I feel like that’s been a big mentality of our whole team, a never quit team. Anything can happen.”
A Never Quit Attitude
Catellier’s work ethic has impressed many, but perhaps none more than head coach Brian Dobie. He’s seen a lot of great quarterbacks come through the program in his 26 years as bench boss, placing Catellier right near the top of the list when it comes to his professionalism and attitude towards his craft.
“I’m being honest here, we’ve had some great quarterbacks at Manitoba. John Makie, who was our quarterback when we won the Vanier Cup and one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play here, Jordan Yantz, look at him, what a stud. The list goes on. Shane Munson, who was an All-Canadian for us. But no quarterback has ever put into his whole life experience in the time that he’s been here more than Des Catellier,” he says.
“His leadership, drive and motivation to leave no stone unturned to be the best he can, honestly there’s no quarterback that’s done that more than Des. That’s how impactful he’s been.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic which halted what should’ve been his final year, Catellier stayed busy. He continued to prioritize football, school and his family, and when the circumstances allowed for it, he departed for BC to add even more to his repertoire. It was there – one two different occasions – that he trained with renowned kinesiologist and movement coach Rob Williams.
Catellier originally met Williams in the summer of 2017 in Victoria, where he was one of the instructors during a camp that quarterbacks guru JC Boice was leading. A fan of his approach to the game, he reached out while in preparation for the 2020 CFL Western Regional combine.
“He wasn’t the leader of the camp, but he had his own little parts to it, and he was teaching very good stuff. I was seeing guys like [Vanier Cup champ] Michael O’Connor, Mike Riley, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, and he coaches a lot of different sports like hockey and baseball,” says Catellier.
“I knew a friend, a quarterback coach from out in BC who works closely with him as well, and so I had reached out to both of them about maybe possibly getting some work in with them before the combine I was working towards in 2020. I went out there, I made sure to take my classes online that semester and I went out there for a month and we worked. I feel like that set the tone for a new level of me working hard.”
Catellier worked directly with Williams for seven days a week, improving his deep ball and overall mechanics with a focus on movement and activation of the core and hips, instead of brute arm strength.
“I was always a guy who threw the ball with my arm, and didn’t throw the ball with my core. Now my arm doesn’t do the work, the work comes from my core. There’s so much more velocity and with the deep ball, you can just put more onto it and be more accurate and comfortable throwing the ball,” the pivot says.
“I’ve always been accurate in the short and intermediate game, but I maybe didn’t always feel as confident throwing the ball over the top, and right now I definitely feel confident with any throw. I’ve added some pro-level oomph to the ball. I’m really happy with the progression I’ve made in my throwing game. Everything [Williams] teaches you is just proper kinesiology ways of moving the body. It just helps you all around with all facets of your game.”
Catellier also had the chance to work with former NCAA standout Nathan Rourke and O’Connor. Both quarterbacks are currently in the CFL, with BC and Calgary, respectively.
“There’s things that they do that I pick up on, there’s things in their demeanour and how they work and different things in how they throw the ball and saw the game strategically. It was cool just to sit there and watch them talk football. That’s what I like about anything. I love to talk football and I love to listen to smart individuals talk about football, guys that have gone through the process,” he says.
“Those are the two guys in the CFL as Canadian quarterbacks right now, and they’re both Rob Williams guys. That’s a goal of mine that I want to get to one day, and I feel like Rob Williams is the dude that’s sending out those guys. I feel in the best hands with him.”
Take The Next Step in 2021
Not long after the combine was cancelled, Catellier brought together some of his teammates in BC to train with Williams in BC. They included receiver Macho Bockru, defensive backs Arjay Shelley and Markos Bockru, linebacker/defensive lineman Brendan Desjardine and receiver Gavin Cobb. The veteran core bonded, while learning about cutting mechanics and other intricacies to the game.
Once it was safe to do so this spring, Catellier helped orchestrate player-led practices alongside some of his senior teammates, so that by the time training camp rolled around, the flow was there. The buy-in was immense, with a large base of the team – 74 percent of which is local in 2021, the most in Dobie’s tenure as head coach – participating.
“It was awesome to see the group of guys commit to it and buy into it. We had a lot of guys come out, offensive and defensive side of the ball. That’s something that maybe in the past we haven’t had in the offseason,” he says.
“In the offseason it’s been little groups of two or three guys going off to train. This year we have a group of guys who have bought in and understand the importance of a player-led practice and getting together, doing it ourselves and holding each other accountable as players. Everything we’re installing on day one, day two, day three, we worked on in the summer. If you were there, you know the plays and you can see the difference in the guys – and there were a lot of them out there – you can see how it’s easy-flowing out there for them now. It was awesome to go through that process.”
While there’s no question that the success of this team depends largely on Catellier’s performance, he’s not overthinking things. His desire is to get a little bit better every day, and the rest will come, just like it has over the last three seasons, where Manitoba has improved their record in each.
“Football is a continuously learning sport. You can learn at any time. I know Tom Brady would say this any day of the week, that he learns stuff every day about football. There’s no mastery to this game. There’s excellence, but there’s nobody who has mastered football. There’s always learning to do. I always feel like when I’m in the presence of smart and good individuals, I’ll always try to spend the time and pick their brains and pick up anything they’re doing on the field and how they interact with people and how they think about the game.”
Mike Still is a journalism grad and Canadian football enthusiast, Mike has a role at every level of amateur football in Manitoba, including being the staff writer and play-by-play voice of the Manitoba Bisons.