Nealy compared to Lions former star quarterback

Michael Petrie, Calgary Herald
Published: Wednesday, June 06, 2007 Article tools
Former Calgary Stampeders offensive co-ordinator Steve Buratto was first to hang the label on Barrick Nealy.

Since then, general manager Jim Barker, running back Joffrey Reynolds and countless others have joined in, comparing the Stamps' quarterback hopeful to Casey Printers.

The guy hasn't even dressed for a Canadian Football League game and his alleged upside already rivals the league's most outstanding player of 2004, arguably the most exciting CFLer of the past decade.

"I've heard that and it's really putting a lot of pressure on me when people say that," says Nealy, currently third on Calgary's depth chart. "But for them to even compare me to Casey is an honour.

"I hope they see some comparisons because he's a proven quarterback on this level. I mean, MVP of the league. He's done everything he needed to do.

"I hope to follow in those footsteps but those are big shoes to fill."

It so happens that Nealy has been walking in those footsteps since he was a kid growing up in Dallas. Three years younger than Printers, Nealy idolized the DeSoto High School legend who tore apart the state in the late 1990's.

Being tall, mobile, strong-armed and fiercely competitive, Nealy possesses the attributes that catapulted Printers to the National Football League. All he needs now is an opportunity to prove himself as a pro.

"I've been modelling my game after him since I was young," says Nealy, 23. "He was a star and everyone wanted to be like that. You wanted to be Casey coming up in Dallas as a quarterback.

"He can take over a game with his feet or his arm. Those are some of the things that I try to do."

While Nealy made a name for himself at W.H. Adamson High, he never reached Printers' status because his school simply wasn't a football powerhouse. Still, he created college options for himself and attended the University of Houston, where he teamed with Reynolds for two seasons.

"He started for us in his redshirt freshman year and I think he had 100 yards rushing and 200 yards passing in his first game," says Reynolds. "He was productive. You could tell he had that advantage of being elusive and having a good, strong arm.

"He's a Casey Printers, Vince Young type of player. Once he gets comfortable and learns what's expected of him in the offence, he'll be a helluva player."

After tranferring to Texas State for a season, Nealy went undrafted and was signed by the Minnesota Vikings as a wide receiver. A downside of being a big, athletic quarterback is that NFL teams often see more upside in a position change.

"When I went to the combine, one of my former coaches told me, 'Don't run your fastest, don't do anything your fastest,'" says Nealy. "It's kind of a curse but at the end of the day you kind of have the opportunity to take which route you want to take.

"Coming out (of college) I didn't get the looks I wanted at the quarterback position and I decided to take this route. The CFL has given me a chance and I'm just thankful for it."

Nealy joined the Stamps in August last year and spent a few weeks on the practice roster before returning to Texas. A month earlier, he got married and was cut by the Vikings, so he needed to shore up his personal life.

He reached an agreement with Calgary head coach Tom Higgins to start fresh this year and worked out for the Stamps in Houston during the off-season.

"He's shown he's a good athlete," says offensive co-ordinator George Cortez. "He's pressuring himself to learn what to do. He's shown that he throws the ball well when his technique is good and he's thrown the ball well on the run."

Like Printers, Nealy's skills will show better in a game than practice.

His ability improvise and make plays outside the pocket are two of his best assets. The Stamps have him signed through 2007 with an option for 2008, so there's plenty of time to let him develop.

"The biggest thing is to learn the system because when I know what I'm doing out there, things come natural," says Nealy. "Coach hasn't put any pressure on me or anything, so I feel like I'm in a real good situation.

"Right now, Hank is our No. 1 guy and we're supporting him and Akili is our No. 2 right now. All I have to do is come out, get better and prove myself and let the coaches make those decisions."