"It was just about trying to become the best quarterback I could be." That's how Asher Hastings described his decision to enroll at McMaster University.
It was a head scratcher for some at the time. Why follow in the footsteps of a Hec Crighton Trophy winner and Vanier Cup MVP in Kyle Quinlan? Why go to a program where there already was an established fifth-year incumbent in Marshall Ferguson? Why fly across the country to play football away from friends and family when you could start right away for the majority of schools in the country?
Hindsight is 20-20 but Hastings had razor sharp vision when making the brave choice after an MVP junior career with the Regina Thunder in the Canadian Junior Football League. That same vision has put him in god stead on the field as the quarterback of the Marauders.
At the age of 21, with just three years of CIS eligibility left, nobody would have questioned if Hastings had chosen a lesser school in exchange for immediate playing time.
McMaster was the first school to contact him. When Hastings took his visit it was love at first sight. "I chose the best football team that was coming after me. I wanted to be successful whether it was now or in the future".
After guiding the Thunder to their first Prairie Football Conference title and first Canadian Bowl in 2013, Hastings wanted to be a part of a winning culture. He also wanted to learn how to create a winning culture. Top level coaching was of chief importance, not so he could learn and improve as a player, but more so so he could learn and improve as a coach.
"I want to coach. I want to soak in as much as possible", Hastings revealed.
The coach in training went on to say, "I've been able to coach spring football and coach at the high school level. I wanted to go to a new offence and I wanted to have a new experience, see a new way of doing things and expand my comfort zone to help me coach in the future."
Hastings helped coach grade 10-12 students at Martin collegiate in Regina and was bit by the coaching bug almost immediately.
Asked if it's hard for him to coach in comparison to play, where he is on the field and can impact the game, Hastings had the opposite outlook. "I think you have a pretty huge impact. You can set the tone for everything that happens on any given play. When I'm on the field, in this Mac offence, I'm not making too many decisions. The coaches have prepared me to a point where the decisions are made for me beforehand".
Those decisions or non-decisions have become easier over time. "It was tough. I came in last season and I don't think I grasped the idea and concept of the offence. Here it's the opposite approach of what we did out West, everything was read opposite. Going to Argos' camp cleared things up for me."
Before he had ever started a game in the CIS, Hastings was recognized as one of the up and coming QB's in the country. He was invited to train with the Toronto Argonauts during their 2015 camp. Moving to a pro-style offence taught Hastings that completion percentage, staying on the field and moving the chains is the name of the game when trying to play winning football, not winning the game on every play.
The education for Hasting was invaluable. "Back home we would read deep to short. Here you are just trying to complete passes, your reads are short to deep. The Argos offence is like that. It made me understand receiver splits and spacing on the field. You see why guys like Ricky Ray and Anthony Calvillo have had such great success playing that way over the years."
Even though the McMaster system is QB friendly, Hastings didn't think his transition would be so smooth. "Numbers wise, not at all. I really expected some growing pains being a first year starter."
One man who had no such concerns in his ability was the last man to rewrite the record books at McMaster, Kyle Quinlan. Quinlan was the QB coach at Mac a year ago and before he departed the position in the offseason, he left Hastings some goals to shoot for. "Quinlan sat down with me and told me what he expected of me. He essentially told me I could be a top 5 guy in the country, I was intimated. He brought out the statistics of the single-season leaders at QB over the last 10 years. He said I should be in that group."
The Marauders' regular season is just three quarters of the way completed and Hastings is already on the list. In Just six games, he has 25 TD passes, giving him the OUA and McMaster record. He's five shy of the CIS record of 30 set back in 1989 by Chris Flynn, the only three-time Hec Crighton winner.
With one more year of eligibility in 2016, Hastings, who is getting more comfortable by the game, has a chance to eclipse what he's done so far this season.
Yet, moving up the record book isn't what motivates Hastings, it's having his parents fly up to Hamilton. Even if he is in contention to break the CIS record in the last week of the season, his family isn't planning on being attendance. Already having visited Hamilton for Homecoming, his family's return trip won't be until a potential Yates Cup appearance.
"It's been tough to be away from home. I still have unbelievable support. Rock solid parents and grandparents. It's a blessing," Asher admits.
The rekindling of his family bond, one forged around his sporting exploits, is what has dominated Hastings' nostalgic thinking down the stretch, not making future history.
"My parents are a big part of the success I'm having. I've never missed a football practice. I've never been late for a practice. Lots of people can't say that. As a child they always put me and my siblings first. Willing to put out money for our sports activities when they didn't have much themselves, was selfless. At the time I didn't think about it much but it means a lot now because it's opened a lot of doors for me. I call them every Saturday," he recalls.
Asher, who was given the biblical name by his parents because it means "blessed" or "happy" in Hebrew, feels just that in his new home away from home. Comfortable in his new offence, comfortable with his new coaches and new city, and comfortable knowing if he continues to play the way he's playing he'll see his family sooner rather than later.