McLeod Bethel-Thompson is fluent in several different football dialects.
The quarterback for the East Division first-place Toronto Argonauts had to learn dozens of playbooks and terminologies on his way to becoming a core piece for one of the best teams in the CFL.
The 34-year-old played in four different leagues and was part of several NFL teams before coming to Toronto – after a brief stint with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers – to lead the Argos to back-to-back seasons atop the division.
“It’s a cool feeling to get into a room and understand what people are talking about when they’re describing plays because you know the different systems,” said the Toronto signal-caller, who places the total number of playbooks he had to learn throughout his career in the double digits.
The wealth of knowledge certainly paid off this season, showcased by a league-leading 4,731 passing yards – most in the CFL – to go along 23 touchdowns. The five-year veteran also led the league in completions with 387.
It seemed like the Argonauts offence would be handicapped by the loss of veteran running back Andrew Harris early in the year to a torn pectoral muscle, but the group led by Bethel-Thompson and receivers Kurleigh Gittens Jr., DaVaris Daniels, and Markeith Ambles, responded.
Head coach Ryan Dinwiddie displayed the utmost confidence in his quarterback, placing him amongst the elite few in the league.
“The guy has found ways to win, and it isn’t always pretty as we know, but I think he’s right up there with that class (of elite quarterbacks),” Dinwiddie told to the Toronto Star.
Bethel-Thompson himself doesn’t focus on the praise, instead deciding to find ways to get better each day.
Earlier this year, he passed football legend Doug Flutie to land fourth in Argonauts history in passing yards. Instead of revelling in the accomplishment, Bethel-Thompson chose to focus on his team rather than individual numbers.
“It’s probably something I will look back on when my career is done, but right now I am focused on being above .500,” Bethel-Thompson said at the time.
It is safe to say that the Argos succeeded in being above that mark, finishing with an 11-7 record on their way to securing a spot in the East after going 4-5 in the first nine weeks.
The turnaround began when they came back after trailing 16-10 at the half to beat the Tiger-Cats 37-20 in Toronto on Aug. 26.
“McLeod battled back in that second half, and I feel like he had some extra pressure after the performance the last two weeks, but he dug in there and a had a great game,” said Dinwiddie after that game.
The quarterback threw for 2,225 yards and 13 touchdowns as the Argonauts went 7-1 in his final eight games since then. He sat out the season finale against the Alouettes after securing the division lead with a game to spare and a bye into the East final.
That early clinch was also a product of a stingy defence that forced a league-high 38 turnovers led by all-stars tackle Shawn Oakman, LB Wynton McManis, and CB Jamal Peters.
Making the playoffs and winning the Grey Cup, though, is a whole different story. Bethel-Thompson knows the feeling he is chasing very well after losing last year in the East finals to the Tiger-Cats 27-19.
“An unbelievable level of satisfaction and appreciation and love,” said the quarterback about what it would mean to win a Grey Cup.
“Not only because of the hard work that we put in as a team, and the willingness for us to give up a piece of ourselves to be part of something greater, but for our loved ones, my daughter, my wife and my family that I don’t get to be around all the time, and their level of sacrifice for allowing me to go chase my dream.”
The veteran’s performance placed him in the CFL East all-star team alongside RB A.J. Ouellette, centre Justin Lawrence, tackle Dejon Allen and his favourite target Gittens Jr, while also earning him a nomination for the Most Outstanding Player in the CFL for the second consecutive year.
The chemistry between quarterback and his receivers has been building for a while and is going to be even more important in the post-season.
“I’ve been with Mac for three years, so time obviously helps,” said Gittens Jr. to Argonauts.ca earlier this year. “I’m an annoying guy to Mac, in a sense. In practice I’ll always go back to him and ask ‘Hey, is that good?’ Whatever he sees, I’m hoping I see the same thing while I’m running my route and just be in a position he’ll trust that I’ll be there and make the play.”
Bethel Thompson knows that this team’s success was a collective effort, which would mean the glory would also be equally divided.
“It’s a group celebration, it’s a family celebration. It’s why we put in all these hours,” said the signal-caller.
The Argonauts pursuit of that feeling begins Sunday, November 13th, at 1 p.m. EST. They will be faced with either the second-place Montreal Alouettes or a possible rematch against third-place Hamilton Tiger-Cats.