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Kragthorpe: USU degree a big completion for Anthony Calvillo

Published May 7, 2014 9:50 pm

CFL's all-time passing leader is graduating from Utah State.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Someday, Athena and Olivia Calvillo will appreciate the nearly 80,000 passing yards their father accumulated in the Canadian Football League.

Anthony Calvillo just wants them to remember his 10-yard walk in a basketball arena in Logan last weekend.

Calvillo graduated from Utah State University, more than 20 years after playing for the Aggies. He could have asked the school to mail his diploma or received it in September, when he's inducted into USU's Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame. Instead, he brought his family to Utah from Montreal, hoping the moment would resonate with his daughters, ages 8 and 6.

"I wanted them to have that visual, of me crossing that stage," he said.

There's much more for those girls to learn from their parents' experiences, stuff that no one would have scripted. Like dealing with the forms of cancer that struck Calvillo and his wife, Alexia. Or the concussion that ended his career rather unceremoniously last year.

"Things just got thrown at us that you kind of respond to," he said. "It's all how you're able to manage it."

His status as professional football's all-time leader in passing yards wouldn't help him nearly as much as that diploma, when it came to emphasizing the girls' schoolwork. USU coach Matt Wells also welcomes how his former Aggie teammate's effort "places a value on a degree," serving as an example to players in the program.

Calvillo needed two decades to earn those last 15 credits, because he was so consumed in the offseasons with football preparation. In January, he launched himself into the remaining online coursework for a degree in general studies. And last week, after submitting his final paper in Eastern Asian History, he high-fived his wife.

"It's really impressive to me," said Ben Cahoon, a former BYU receiver who was Calvillo's longtime teammate with the Montreal Alouettes. "He didn't need a degree. He's set up for life in Montreal, with endorsements and promotions and business opportunities. … It shows that he's a finisher."

And it's one more reason for Cahoon to admire Calvillo, beyond their hundreds of pass completions. Cahoon will always remember how his quarterback left the Alouettes during the 2007 season. Calvillo's wife was diagnosed with life-threatening lymphoma, soon after giving birth to the couple's second daughter, and he chose to stay home.

"Some guys in the locker room and maybe some fans would have questioned that," Cahoon said. "It would have been easy for him to go throw the ball around with the boys, but he needed to take care of his wife and his kids. It was just a great example to the whole country about what it means to be a true man."

Alexia's extensive treatment lasted more than a year. "Her motivation was to live for [the girls]," Calvillo said. "It was beyond impressive, how she was able to handle it."

It could be said that Calvillo was rewarded for his devotion to family when the Alouettes won the Grey Cup in 2009 and 2010 after a series of losses in title games. But that wouldn't explain why he was afflicted with thyroid cancer, or how a concussion prevented him from playing in the second half of the 2013 season.

Calvillo had hoped to come back in October, but the symptoms returned as a result of his stress and anxiety about playing again. The next day, once he knew he was finished with football, he woke up feeling fine.

That's when he looked toward his future, which included schoolwork. He wants to coach, so a degree has practical application, enabling him to work at the high school or college level.

Calvillo's USU career was highlighted by a 58-56 victory over BYU in 1993. Accounting for seven touchdowns, he kept doing whatever it took to win that day.

More than 20 years later, he produced one more completion in Logan. After accepting his diploma, he described the event as "amazing … well worth the trip."

And not only for himself, he hopes.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt Anthony Calvillo's football career

Age • 41

Hometown • La Puente, Calif.

College • Utah State

Signature USU performances

1993 shootout • USU 58, BYU 56 — 472 passing yards, five touchdown passes, two rushing TDs

1993 Las Vegas Bowl • USU 42, Ball State 33 — 286 passing yards, 3 TDs

CFL career

20 years • Played from 1994 to 2013 with Las Vegas, Hamilton, Montreal

Titles • Won Grey Cup championships with Montreal in 2002, 2009, 2010

He passed them all • Ranks No. 1 all-time in pro football with 79,816 passing yards, ahead of Damon Allen (72,381 in CFL); Brett Favre (71,838 in NFL); Warren Moon (70,553 in CFL/NFL); Peyton Manning (64,964 in NFL); Dan Marino (61,361 in NFL); and Doug Flutie (58,179 in CFL/NFL/USFL)