Calgary Stampeders quarterback Nick Arbuckle has exploded onto the CFL scene in the absence of Bo Levi Mitchell.
He didn’t have an easy journey here, but his strongest teammate off the field made it all possible.
When Arbuckle and Zakiyyah Shabazz met in a dining hall at Georgia State University five years ago, they never thought it would lead them to find a home in Calgary.
All they knew was that they’d have to make some sacrifices for Arbuckle to pursue professional football.
“We never really knew who was going to call or when they were going to call and where we might be going,” Arbuckle recalled.
“It left us in a position where we couldn’t really commit to a career. We had to have jobs we could drop at any moment, but at the same time, we had bills to pay.”
Arbuckle wanted to focus on training, traveling and meeting with teams across North America in the hope of gaining a shot.
For Shabazz, that meant holding down three jobs to keep the dream alive.
“I teach English to students in China,” Shabazz said. “I would wake up around five in the morning because the hours are almost completely opposite between the southern United States and China. After that, I would go teach in school during the day into the late afternoon. After that, I would work in an escape room. I would get off at midnight some nights.”
“We didn’t even have a car,” Arbuckle added. “We couldn’t afford one. It was tough, but we were always happy. We didn’t feel like we were struggling. We felt blessed to even have jobs.”
The move to Canada was the first time either of them had been outside the United States.
Memories of early days as a young couple make Arbuckle’s recent CFL success that much sweeter.
Shabazz wasn’t able to watch his first CFL start in Regina, but she was in the stands to watch him lead the Stamps to a comeback victory over the BC Lions on June 29.
“If I would have seen that anywhere else — like Friday Night Lights — I look at those games like ‘OK. That’s unrealistic’,” Shabazz said. “When he got in I was nervous. But I’m getting excited now just thinking about it. Seeing it was incredible.”
“It really hit me after just reflecting on where we came from and all the things we’ve gone through to get to this moment,” Arbuckle said.
In their third season in Calgary, the newlyweds feel lucky to be a team of their own.