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QUARTERBACK CONTROVERSY– WHO WILL LEAD TORONTO OPENING NIGHT?

As the inaugural Toronto Triumph game fast approaches the new franchise has a terrific problem on their hands…too much talent at quarterback! Arguably the most important position in football, Toronto finds themselves under a month away from their home opener with two equally matched generals, Donna Paul and Jennifer Mancini.

Both are students of the gridiron spending countless hours away from practice studying the playbook. “Donna has more experience and had the edge coming in, but Jennifer has worked very hard and caught up,” explains Triumph head coach Don Marchione. Each possesses a different skill set that compliments the emerging Toronto offence. “Donna is more of a gunslinger where Jennifer is very sound fundamentally,” analyzes Marchione.

LFL360 caught up with Paul and Mancini to discuss their training camp experience, the team overall and of course how they are dealing with this quarterback controversy.

LFL360: What was your athletic background prior to joining the Toronto Triumph?

Jennifer Mancini (JM): I played varsity volleyball for the University of Guelph for 4 years where we were top 4 in the province 3 out of 4 years and where I received a First Team OUA (Ontario University Athletics) all-star award in 2003-2004. Originally I was supposed to run track there as well but with time constraints it wasn’t possible.

Most recently, I’ve played competitive 2 on 2 beach volleyball where I’ve competed at the provincial and national championships except for this summer because my main focus has been football. The training for both sports is similar because you’re training for short bursts of explosive energy. I’ve also played high level flag football in high school and touch football in university.

Donna Paul (DP): Growing up I played competitive ice hockey and in the summers played competitive softball (pitcher).  In high school I was in: basketball, volleyball, cross country, track & field, badminton (yes, I love badminton!), but my favourite was in the Spring because we had a touch football team.  I played from grade 7-13 and started quarterbacking in grade 9.

I moved to Toronto to attend the University of Toronto in their Physical Health & Education program, but my top priority was playing for the Varsity Blues Women’s Hockey Team. We won the national title in my second year. I continued playing football in the summers and found a competitive touch league with great teams in Toronto.  At first I played half back and rusher on defence.  I’ve led a team for 5 years now as quarterback, which allows me to run my own offense.

LFL360: It has been a long grind since the tryouts, how have you developed as a QB and how has the offense been developing overall?

JM: My throwing technique has changed about 4 times since first tryout, but my knowledge and confidence have grown so much thanks to my coaches, teammates, and other close guy friends of mine who have played CFL, or university football, that have come out countless times to help me throw, or run routes for me in order to help me improve.

DP: Honestly, this LFL game is VERY different and it has been a challenging yet exciting experience figuring out this new style of women’s football. Practicing is only half of the battle.  Putting in the time outside of mandatory team practices is where the true work begins.  I feel like I am in the best shape of my life.  This whole process has elevated my game to a whole other level.  My balls are more consistent, my reads are coming quicker and my overall technique has improved!  I have learned a lot from our coaches and our offense in general has made leaps and bounds over the last few months.  People are improving daily and bringing their best efforts to practice. It’s all coming together and it’s looking fierce!

LFL360: How is your relationship with one another on and off the field since there is such intense competition for the starting QB job?

JM: I just met Donna at the first tryouts and remember being asked to throw at the side of the field with her and thought, wow she’s got a great arm. We’ve recently started training together outside of our regular practices and helping each other out with technique, footwork, and game play. On the field, we both have a sense of desire for our offense to do well. No matter who’s starting or not, we don’t like to lose!

DP: Jen and I get along great on and off the field. We help each other out on the field and we meet outside of practice times to go over routes and practice our foot work.  She’s a great competitor and a phenomenal athlete that is fighting for the same spot as I am.  With that being said, I want the starting QB job and am going to fight hard for that spot.  That’s what being a competitive athlete is all about.

LFL360: What are your strengths/weaknesses?  What are you stronger at as a quarterback then your teammate?

JM: Our styles are different mainly because she’s a more experienced quarterback, who is great at scrambling under pressure. My main focus is ensuring I learn the proper techniques for throwing, footwork, etc., so it becomes second nature on the field. I’m the type of athlete that feels more confident knowing that I don’t need to worry about technique because it has been practiced to the point of mental and physical exhaustion, so that in a game, the focus can be on reading my opponents and I can trust that my technique will follow.

DP: I am a very laid back and easy going person BUT once you get me on the field on game day I am a totally different person, and not many people on this team have seen that side of me yet.  I believe I lead by example. I show up and listen to the coaches, take in all the information and try to put it into action.  Jen is a more vocal leader which is something every team needs.

I believe my strengths are in my agility and patience with the ball. My touch football background and leading an offense for the past few years gives me that game day edge over Jen. I’m working very hard at reading defences better and finding the proper holes.  It has been a challenge to learn the technique of taking direct snaps and getting the footwork down for rolling out and setting up to throw, however this part of my game has improved.

LFL360: Donna, do you think the offense is being utilized to its full potential by the coaching staff?

DP: I do believe that the offensive players are all being utilized very well.  All members of the offense have specific jobs on specific plays and we are executing successfully in practice.  With that being said, I do think the offense would benefit from the coaches incorporating the non-starting QB into the offense somehow.  That would be highly beneficial and very exciting to watch!

LFL360: Jennifer, how did you enjoy doing the LFL All-Fantasy photo shoot? Is that type of media exposure what you were looking for coming in?

JM: I really enjoyed doing the All-Fantasy photo shoot. It was not my intention to gain media exposure initially because I just wanted to play football, but anything that will help advertise for the league and especially for my team, Canada’s first in the LFL, will only help us become fan favorites and help the Canadian version of the LFL start up next year!

As time ticks down to September 17 at the Ricoh Coliseum every scrimmage becomes that much more important for these two starting quarterback hopefuls. Coach Marchione sums it best by saying, “It will come down to who reads the defense better.  Both are good leaders and both will be a huge part of this offense.”

Photo courtesy of Jag Gundu Photography, Official Photographer of the Toronto Triumph.