OTTAWA – Matt Mahler imagined his first season as a member of the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees football team as largely watching from the sideline.
With two quarterbacks ahead of the Canmore native for the starting gig, Mahler anticipated a steep learning curve while adjusting to the new system and vying for minimal minutes on one of Canada’s top squads.
What Mahler didn't imagine at the start of the 2019 season was leading the Gee-Gees attack come playoff time, but the 19-year-old QB was the man for the job.
Mahler reflected on his unique season where it paid off to be game-ready as he went from a third stringer to starter in under two months.
Everything changed after the first week for the former Canmore Wolverines’ offensive player of the year when Gee-Gees starting quarterback Sawyer Buettner went down with a season-ending concussion. From there, Mahler and teammate Ben Maracle were called upon to lead the offence and team, all while the starting QB spot was wide open.
“Right away it was back and fourth competing,” Mahler said. “We’re in the same situation … and we help each other. There’s a lot of pressure and both of us know that and we can be stronger in certain areas.”
Mahler was handed a two-inch thick playbook from coaches and told to learn it on top of his regular academics. After years of learning plays with the Wolverines and Okanagan Sun junior club, the new system sunk in quickly for Mahler and the two quarterbacks traded minutes throughout September and October. They were developing chemistry and growing on the field, but Mahler was emerging as the top candidate.
“The atmosphere kind of changed on offence [when I was in the game] to get things done for the ultimate goal and I think that was a big part of it,” Mahler said.
Mahler holds a rare distinction as only one of three Wolverines to play university ball. But the six-foot-one QB credits his time with the Okanagan Sun of the Canadian Junior Football League after high school, where he developed as an all-round threat, as a major contributor to seamlessly moving into a top role.
In the Gee-Gees final game of the regular season on Oct. 19, Mahler’s on-field leadership was rewarded in his first university start against the nation’s top ranked Western Mustangs. Mahler threw 245 yards and had two touchdowns in the 32-22 loss against the white and purple.
‼️ TOUCHDOWN GEE-GEES ‼️— Gee-Gees Football (@GeeGeesFootball) October 19, 2019
Mahler finds Matheson for the late touchdown!
WES 32 | OTT 23
End of the 4th pic.twitter.com/xxefvMhVlh
Mahler was blown away by the opportunity to lead the charge against the football juggernaut, using the game as a learning opportunity for this next big challenge: playoffs.
“It was crazy,” he said. “I was really honoured [to start the last two games]. I didn’t think I was going to put on a jersey [this season]. I was prepared to red shirt this year and when I got the opportunity and called up, it was nice to put back on a jersey and be back at it.”
Against the Waterloo Warriors in the playoffs on Saturday (Oct. 26), the Gee-Gees came up short, losing 44-21 to end the season. Mahler threw for 286 yards and had one touchdown in the final game.
‼️ Touchdown Gee-Gees ‼️— Gee-Gees Football (@GeeGeesFootball) October 26, 2019
Mahler to Matheson for the score and the same thing for the two-point conversion!
WAT 44 | OTT 21
3:43 left in the 4th Q pic.twitter.com/oKL7dA7Z48
“I had confidence in the game plan and wanted to dominate these guys,” Mahler said. “I had 286 yards, but definitely made some mistakes and we couldn’t come together – couldn’t finish drives on offence. We didn’t finish.”
With the season coming to a close, Mahler reflected on the rare season where he went from an unknown to the face of the Gee-Gees offence.
He said he’s eager for next season to come, where he’ll get a chance to defend his role as starting quarterback when new recruits make their way to the nation’s capital.
“I’m interested to see who comes out and have a healthy competition between quarterbacks.”