Where are they Now: Thomas DeMarco
When Old Dominion started football in 2009 Thomas DeMarco was under center for the Monarchs and led ODU to a 36-21 victory over Chowan. DeMarco went on to start the first 27 games for ODU, leading the Monarchs to a 21-6 record in those games. For the last two years, DeMarco was a backup quarterback with the CFL's B.C. Lions, starting several games this past season. He was recently taken in the expansion draft by the Ottawa Redblacks as they begin their first campaign this season. ODUSports.com recently spoke to DeMarco about his time at ODU and in Canada.
How is living in Canada? It’s actually really nice. When I was in B.C. I was about two hours north of Seattle, so I was in a different Country but it didn’t actually feel like it. Ottawa is going to be more of a culture shock. I’m going to be about 10 minutes from Quebec, which is a French speaking part of the country. Some of the stuff on our website they speak in both French and English, which is something different to what I’m used to.
Do you know any French? No. Being from California we focused on Spanish mostly, but I haven’t done anything since high school, so it’s going to be a new situation.
With B.C., you were the third string quarterback your first year then second string last year and also saw time as the starter when the first string quarterback went down. What was that experience like? We do not get a lot of reps as a second string QB, but we do get to simulate what it would be like sometimes. You try and prepare yourself the best you can but you don’t know what it’s going to be like until you’re in there. A three-play script is much different than a 60-play game. You try and do the best you can, stay focused and learn within the offense. I was fortunate to have some success in the beginning and grow through the losses as a team. You never want to get in there from an injury but when you get your chance you want to do well.
What were your expectations when you were with B.C.? I went into my first camp there as the No. 4 quarterback and I ended up being the No. 3 that year and then the No. 2 QB last season. You want to see yourself grow within the offense and move up to first string. Obviously you’re going to have guys that are established players in the league that are going to be No. 1 and they should. You want to create value every year and not become comfortable in the role as a second or third string player. I wanted to create value to the team and make sure if something happened that the guys and the organization were comfortable with me leading the team.
What has been your most memorable moment so far in the CFL? My first start was in Saskatchewan, and for people that follow the CFL, that’s the equivalent of going to Seattle, a hostile environment with a loud crowd. They went down the field to take the lead and we drove down and kicked a field goal to win the game. I converted a third and 10 (which is fourth down in the CFL, the offense only has three downs to get a first down), and the next play we kicked a field goal, which I held and we won the game. So I had a comeback victory in my first start ever, I don’t think I’ll ever forget that.
Talk about the differences between the American game and the CFL? The biggest thing is you have to use the tools that got you there but you have to forget everything you’ve ever learned. Mentally as a quarterback things don’t add up. There are 12 guys on the field. You’ve never seen that before, the throwing angles are longer. You have to visualize a game that is totally different. It’s still football but it’s a completely different game. There is a lot of speed, something as simple as a zone read; the defensive line is a yard off the ball so you have to learn the little nuances of the game.
What was the process that you went through with the expansion draft? The way that it works is you have four picks in the draft. One was American and three Canadian. I knew they were going to protect the starting quarterback so I knew I was not going to be protected and there was a possibility of being picked. I was flying back from Virginia, I was on a plane leaving from Denver going to Palm Springs, and I left my phone on because I knew there was a chance I would get picked. I left my phone off of airplane mode because I wanted to know as soon as I landed, and once I got cell phone reception I had five missed calls and 15 messages and looked at the first one that said “congratulations, go get em”. I was like oh my gosh it actually happened, they drafted me. I checked my voicemails and made some calls and figured out their expectations and it was kind of exciting.
How was your first mini camp with Ottawa ( A few weeks prior in Richmond)? It was good. It’s nice because it reminds you that football is coming soon. We start camp on June 1 and the quarterbacks get there a few days early. We have QB school where we’ll go over everything. The mini camp was nice because we got the chance to meet some of the guys that you know are going to be there and it was kind of a tryout for a lot of the wide receivers and defensive backs. Football is a humbling sport because you realize you can still do it but there is a lot of work to be done, which is exciting.
How many Americans are on a team? There are 46 players on a roster and I believe you have to have 22 Canadians on the roster. The biggest thing is you have to have seven Canadian starters. It’s harder for both sides of the boarder, because if you’re best player from Canada is a running back, that becomes a Canadian position. Once you fit that as a Canadian position that takes a position away from an American.
You’re now with an expansion franchise in Ottawa and you were part of the startup program here at Old Dominion. This is the second time you’re starting something brand new. Have you noticed similarities between the two? The thing that’s funny is I get the question you’ve never had this happen before, how do you feel, and I’m like I have had this happen and I know how it feels. I know the hard work that goes into it to when a community and staff are all behind it what can happen. It’s going to be different because of the financial aspect but jobs are at risk just as they were at ODU. In some ways I know what to expect but I’m still a young player and learning my way as I go along. We haven’t had that initial training camp yet where as here we got here for the summer and took classes with some of the guys.
Have you been to Ottawa yet? I have. I went there for a day visit in February. They chose five players to come up and fans came in and were able to ask questions. That is when I realized how different it was going to be. Some of the questions were in French and some in English and I just thought this is going to be different.
Talk about your time at Old Dominion? The biggest thing I wanted to do was be a part of something that was special. When I finally got an opportunity to visit I realized by head coach played quarterback, my position coach and offensive coordinator played quarterback, it was a good fit. It made it easy because the faculty, the community and staff were all very excited about it. When I first came out here in 2009, we had the second worst winter ever next to this year, I wasn’t sure if this was the place for me, but I settled into it and realized they brought guys in here from all over the place for one common goal.
What did you take from those first couple of ODU teams? When your joined by a team that everyone expects to do well its really exciting. What I learned from it was if you can get an entire organization to believe in what your doing it will actually happen.
How did that first team in 2009 bond together so well? We had walk-ons, half and full scholarship guys from all over. When we got here we were trying to feel it out and see what was going on. It was easy to bond together because it was a hard winter in terms of conditioning and we had to push through it. We had to get along from the beginning, we put our differences apart and said lets all put it together cause we were all used to winning and it didn’t matter where you from. We stayed longer after practice, doing extra running. We all just wanted it really bad and we showed that every day.
Talk about the experience playing that first-ever game in 2009 against Chowan? We started with the Monarch March and we made it through some of the fans and we realized how excited the fans really were. You hear how excited everyone is and then all of the sudden there is thousands of people lined up for you just to get to the stadium. Everyone was excited to be there, it was loud and a full stadium, it didn’t matter who we played but we were excited and ready to go. We won the game, which is the important part. We got a chance to show what we were capable of and got back to it and got better every day.
What was your most memorable game at ODU? When we first went down to Jacksonville in 2009. We were 2-0 and things weren’t going our way, it was extremely warm, it was humid and hot. We weren’t productive and were down two scores in the third quarter, I’ll never forget Ed McClam told me “I’m going to get you the ball back and your going to score”. I yelled back to him to get me the ball and he got a sack and the defense made a stop. I ran in a touchdown and then we came back and I threw a touchdown pass to Dorian Jackson, and you would have thought we won the Super Bowl, we were so excited and we showed that we could come from behind and there was no quit in us.