CALGARY — The football is now Jake Maier's when the Calgary Stampeders' offence takes the field.
No longer does Maier share a sideline or a dressing room with a future Hall of Fame quarterback.
Maier took over as Calgary's starter midway through last season.
The Californian went 6-3 in the Stampeders' back nine and also started the West Division semifinal loss to the B.C. Lions.
As gracious as Bo Levi Mitchell was about losing his job to Maier, Calgary's all-time passing leader couldn't help but remain an outsized presence given Mitchell's two Grey Cup wins and two league outstanding player awards as a Stampeder.
With Mitchell now a Hamilton Tiger-Cat, the 26-year-old Maier has put in first-team reps in training camp to build teammates' faith that he can carry a team through a season.
"It's a lot more ownership on my end, in the locker room, out in the field, making sure that we're clicking as a group, and there's a lot more leadership that's involved with that," Maier said.
"You have to earn your leadership every single day. You can be the greatest leader in the world in Week 1 and then in Week 10, you do something wrong or maybe you're not putting your best foot forward.
"Guys notice that every single time, so it's something you constantly have to earn, and I look forward to earning that as much as I can."
The Stampeders open their 2023 season Thursday at home against the B.C. Lions.
Calgary and B.C. both finished 12-6 last season behind the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (15-3) atop the West Division.
The Stampeders fell 30-16 to the visiting Lions in the division semifinal, in which Maier completed 12 of 22 pass attempts for 138 yards and no touchdown throws over three-plus quarters.
"It stung big time," Maier said. "We did not put our best foot forward, myself especially, that really drove me throughout the off-season.
"I found myself going back and rewatching that game trying to find different, little things where, 'how can I improve this? If this ever happens to me again, what would I do different?' I think that's really a healthy amount of self-evaluation.
"It's not something I really think much about today at all really. I try to live in the moment, stay in the present, all those cliché things, I really to try to apply that stuff."
Among quarterbacks with seven or more starts in 2022, Maier ranked third in passing percentage (74.7) for 2,389 yards and 14 touchdowns. The six-foot, 227-pound pivot was intercepted seven times.
Maier's two-year contract extension in September, with Mitchell in the last year of his contract, signalled a quarterback succession plan was underway.
Stampeders head coach and general manager Dave Dickenson believes Maier has always been confident in his abilities.
The quarterback now has the stage of potentially a full season to showcase them.
"He's enjoying the process and feeling like his voice is just a little bit stronger," Dickenson said. "He's always had good leadership, but it's easier when you know you're the starter to maybe have a little bit more influence on the team.
"I feel like he's comfortable and I think even last year, surprisingly, with very little time, still executed the offence very well. We'll try to find his strengths. We know what he's hoping to improve upon and so we've been working on that. I guess proof is in the pudding when you actually play a game."
Never the heralded quarterback in his career, Maier is accustomed to having to win people over. He played college ball at both Long Beach City College and NCAA second-tier UC Davis.
"I was a junior college guy and a small-school FCS guy and was not drafted or invited to anything down in the States," Maier said.
"Getting the opportunity to come up here and show this organization who I am, that really meant the world to me, and it's carried me to now. I don't get it twisted just because my status per se has changed within the organization or the league.
"I've always felt like every time I stepped foot on the field, I have to show who I am. I have to prove myself. I have to continue to win this job."
A look at Calgary's major off-season moves:
ADDITIONS: Defensive ends James Vaughters, Julian Howsare; linebacker Micah Awe, receivers Cole Tucker, Rysen John.
DEPARTURES: Defensive ends Shawn Lemon, Folarin Orimolade; linebacker Jamar Thurman; receivers Kamar Jorden, Richard Sindani.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2023.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press