Bailey Wasdal – literally and figuratively – is off and running as the starting quarterback for the St. F.X. X-Men.
After a redshirt season with the Calgary Dinos in U Sports competition, the freshman pivot played three seasons with the highly-regarded Calgary Colts of the Prairie Football Conference in the Canadian Junior Football League (CJFL), before making his way to the Antigonish campus.
“I was looking to come and play right away, so it was just a perfect fit,” the 6’1”, 193-pound pivot said, when asked about his move to the Antigonish campus.
Wasdal made the connection with the St. F.X. football program through Clay Masikewich, a former X-Men quarterback and assistant coach, who also played the position for the Colts.
“We starting talking and, right away, the fit was so good,” he said of his first phone conversation with X-Men head coach Gary Waterman.
“They were looking for an older guy – they didn’t want a guy out of high school, they wanted someone who could come and compete right away.”
Wasdal did just that.
“The coaches thought Bailey showed us enough,” Waterman said of the decision to make him the starter.
He noted there was a “healthy competition” for the role during training camp.
“Obviously, everyone is a lot bigger and faster here,” Wasdal said, when talking about the differences in the game at the AUS level.
Without his time with the Colts, he added, he would not have been able to step into the starter’s role so soon.
“The pace wasn’t too much quicker, so I was able to adapt and adjust really quickly,” Wasdal said.
One of his challenges has been digesting a much larger playbook with the X-Men.
“Our schemes are quite a bit more advanced. We have quite a bit more preparation going into it, which is also really great because a lot of things that I have never really thought about before Coach Goldie [offensive co-ordinator Warren Goldie] has got me prepped for now,” Wasdal said.
After opening the regular season with a 20-13 road loss to the rival Saint Mary’s Huskies, the X-Men evened their record with a thrilling 30-24 come-from-behind victory, in overtime, against the defending conference champion Acadia Axemen.
“It was a great character win,” Waterman said of the Aug. 31 home opener.
After taking “way too many penalties” against the Huskies, he added, the team “bounced back” and improved their performance.
“But, we also know there remains a lot of work to do,” Waterman noted.
Wasdal was front and centre in that rally, punching in a one-yard run in the extra session to secure the victory.
He also engineered fourth-quarter drives to knot the contest on two occasions, including one that ended with 40 seconds remaining in regulation on a two-yard plunge by Jordan Socholotiuk.
Wasdal, who compiled 52 yards on nine carries, finished 21-for-32 with 200 yards through the air.
“One of the biggest things, especially in that game, which helped get me and us going, was using my legs,” he said, when asked about the strengths of his game.
“It really helped me get settled in and, as soon as I started running, it opened up the holes for ‘Soch’ [running back Socholotiuk] and it, kind of, opened up everything else deeper down field [in the passing game].
“It is about using my feet, using my athleticism – threatening the defense with both my arm and my legs,” Wasdal added.
Waterman said his quarterback, understandably, had some hiccups in his first AUS regular season start, but he showed “great improvement” against the Axemen, including using his aforementioned speed not only to get out of pocket and gain rushing yards, but also to make throws down field.
“He put a lot of stress on their defence,” he added.
With offensive weapons at his disposal, such as Socholotiuk, who finished the Acadia game with 22 carries for 128 yards and one touchdown, along with all-Canadian receiver Kaion Julien-Grant (10 catches, 109 yards and two TDs), the freshman agreed that has, and will, continue to make his transition and development much easier.
“It is early on in the season, so we are just trying to build that rapport, build that trust. We are going to continue to work to take that to another level,” Wasdal said.
“Sometimes, it is just a matter of giving those guys a chance – throwing the ball up to them. I have seen already that they will make huge plays for me.”
As for areas of improvement going forward, Wasdal described footwork as a “big thing.”
“It is one of those small details that a lot of fans don’t really see but, when we were dissecting the film, that is, kind of, the key point of emphasis right now,” he said.
“Even though we are getting completions on some of the short routes, I really have to work on my feet, and I can still get quicker with my feet, which is going to make throws a lot easier.”
Even with his early success, Waterman said his first-year quarterback “knows he has a lot of work to do.”
“But, we are certainly seeing improvement, which we are confident will continue,” he added.
Back in action
After a bye week, the X-Men will return to action Saturday (Sept. 15), when they host the Bishop’s Gaiters.
“They are an athletic team,” Waterman said of the upcoming opponent, adding the Gaiters have “a lot of a talent.”
Waterman noted the second-year AUS club, which has new offensive and defensive coordinators, will take time to gel.
“They are a dangerous team” he said, adding the X-Men expect them to be “fast, physical and aggressive.”
As for having their bye week in the five-team league this early in the campaign, Waterman thinks “it is a good time for us.”
After what he called a long training camp, followed by an exhibition and two regular season games, he said the break has provided the opportunity to work on fundamentals and do some film sessions.
Waterman added players have had the chance to get “healed up” and also “mentally recharge.”
Kick-off against Bishop’s is set for 3 p.m.