For any fan of Canadian football, you have likely been thinking about names such as Zach Collaros and Nathan Rourke whenever the word “quarterback” is brought up. Of course, these are starting to become household names, but not everybody is gifted with the chance to find long-term success right away.
Hamilton signal-caller Matt Shiltz is currently playing out his fifth year in the CFL (sixth counting COVID). However, he has less than 2,000 career passing yards and just 8 passing touchdowns to his name, which is why many have given him the “veteran backup” label. Call Shiltz what you want, but there is a lot more to the man than his on-field performance.
Shortly after Shiltz signed with the Tiger-Cats for this season, I had a chance to interview the 29-year-old Illinois native. Prior to 2022, Shiltz had spent his entire career with the Montreal Alouettes going back to 2017, so this was definitely a change of scenery. Given everything it’s taken him to get to this point, though, jumping provinces was light work.
Originally, Canada was a place he never thought much of, having played at a small Division I FCS school in the United States. The name of that school was Butler University, located in the state of Indiana. While Shiltz had higher hopes of recruitment coming out of high school, he was somewhat of a “late bloomer,” and took what he could get in terms of scholarships.
“In the Summer before my senior season, I was actually taking reps at wide receiver just to get on the field. However, our starting quarterback at the time broke his hand during a baseball game, and I was thrown back into my original role.”Matt Shiltz
Similar to high school, Shiltz worked his way up the ranks at Butler, and eventually got the starting opportunity again during his junior campaign. However, just like the man who was in front of him during high school, Shiltz broke his hand halfway through. This hurt his confidence in regards to a football-related future, especially since he was studying in the field of business.
“Coming from a small program, I didn’t know how many opportunities would be at the next level. It was a childhood dream to be a professional quarterback, but sometimes those harsh realities set in and you start to get down on yourself.”Matt Shiltz
Fortunately, Shiltz was able to complete rehab successfully, finishing his career at Butler while still holding the starting job. After competing in one of the FCS All-Star games, he worked out with both the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears. He wasn’t signed by either team, and even after the CFL showed interest, things went quiet pretty quickly. Shiltz then turned his focus back to the business world, studying accounting and management information systems. Through some internships, he was able to land a job with Ernst & Young, one of the world’s largest professional service networks.
“By this point, football was in the rear-view mirror for me, and I didn’t really think it was going to be a part of my life anymore.”Matt Shiltz
Even though Shiltz was paving a great path for himself, he missed football a lot, and the urge to get involved with it again simply couldn’t be ignored. Thanks to some connections he had made earlier on, he pursued a role with the Indianapolis Colts, assisting in scouting and other operations. It was during this time, when Shiltz was working just as hard in the office as his playing days, that his agent contacted him out of the blue.
“My agent called saying that Montreal wanted to sign me. It was totally unexpected since I hadn’t been training too hard at that time, and never really showed any interest towards them. I just remember pacing around my client’s office and talking to their general manager, they wanted me there for minicamp and I didn’t hesitate a bit.”Matt Shiltz
It had been several months since Shiltz’s dream had faded away, but in the blink of an eye, all of his hard work and commitment to the game was paying off. He officially made the team after training camp, and would become a familiar face in the locker room over time. Shiltz gained valuable experience playing behind the likes of Vernon Adams, Darian Durant, and Drew Willy. However, there were other guys beyond that who made it harder for Shiltz to get meaningful snaps, such as Antonio Pipkin and the short-lived Johnny Manziel.
In 2021, it finally appeared that Shiltz would be taking control of the team, following an injury to Vernon Adams. While he did start a few games, Montreal would eventually trade for Trevor Harris, relegating Shiltz back to the bench. It may have been another tough blow, but Shiltz always goes back to his roots and is reminded of the simple things.
“A professional athlete is my title, but it’s not who I am as a person. My main goal is to give back to the game and the people that love it. I was once the little kid who looked up to these players, and now I feel it’s my duty to be the same kind of role model and inspiration.”Matt Shiltz
Once free agency rolled around this past offseason, Shiltz made the tough decision to move on from the Alouettes. From a business perspective, it seemed to be the right call, but it’s never easy to leave a place connected with so many memories. Hamilton showed great interest in Shiltz from day one, and it was a near perfect fit to begin what can only be described as a fresh start.
“From a management perspective, the Tiger-Cats are truly a first-class organization. They know how to do things right, especially when it comes to the treatment and value of their players. When you combine that with such a loyal and dedicated fanbase, it’s hard to look at any other options.”Matt Shiltz
Free agency was definitely a big part of the year for Shiltz, but only small in comparison to an unfortunate event that occurred shortly before. His mother, Karen, passed away in a car accident at the end of 2021. While this could completely derail someone’s career – and possibly their life – Shiltz used the tragedy as additional motivation.
“My mom was my biggest fan, and although she might not be around to watch me anymore, I’ve taken her passion and put it into my own game. Of course I’m going to hang on to all of the memories we had over the years, but the best thing I can do is keep going in her honor.”Matt Shiltz
Heading into week 10 of the 2022 season, Shiltz is expected to get his first start in the Black and Gold, replacing an injured Dane Evans against the rival Argonauts. While Evans and Shiltz have split snaps all year in what can loosely be described as a two-quarterback system, Shiltz will be in full control this time, doing so with home field advantage. It’s not often that he’s looked at as the top option, but when the number 18 is called, expect Matt Shiltz to give it his all.
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