Canadian QB Chris Merchant aiming for triple championship with Fehérvár Enthroners

In a year that has been marked by a high rate of quarterback turnover at the highest levels of European football, one of the best passers on the continent has been getting his work done out of the spotlight.

Dual-threat Canadian signal caller Chris Merchant has taken Hungary by storm since taking over the Fehérvár Enthroners this season. The numbers speak for themselves — Merchant was 79-of-111 through the regular season for 1,065 yards, 17 touchdowns and just four interceptions while adding 94 yards and three scores on the ground.

The championship was simply the cherry on top, as he led the team to their second-ever Hungarian Bowl victory with an MVP performance against the Budapest Wolves last week. 281 yards through the air, 57 yards on the ground, and three scores proved to be the difference in the 31-24 ball game.

Chris Merchant barking out signals during Hungarian Bowl

Merchant is no stranger to winning, having led the University of Western Mustangs to a Vanier Cup title — the Canadian university national championship — back in 2017. However, this one was sweeter than most.

The quarterback came tantalizingly close to a Spanish championship in his first European experience with the Las Rozas Black Demons but suffered a serious knee injury in the final that would ultimately require surgery and extensive rehab.

Having suffered a game-ending ankle injury in his final collegiate game — the 2019 OUA conference championship — it was a disappointment that Merchant understood well, but this time the battle back was harder. Boxed in by COVID restrictions and seeing others moving on with their lives, he mulled hanging up his cleats for good.

“It was a huge contemplation,” Merchant admitted. “If it was just the injury, I would have just come back, no problems. But COVID really did make it difficult and so did being back at home, seeing all my friends and knowing they’ve gotten their career started and are just enjoying their lives.”

Ultimately, he decided that a life in football was the one he wanted to lead and that the connections he continues to make on the field will be what sets him up for success. Eager to return, Merchant faced a new challenge. The former Hec Crighton Trophy winner as Canada’s top university football player had proven himself in Spain, but top tier teams didn’t trust his injured knee.

“I got passed over a couple times by a few good teams that I really was hoping to play for. The GFL wouldn’t touch me, just because of the injury,” Merchant recalled. “And so I said if a good opportunity comes up elsewhere, I’ll take it. That’s when the Enthroners owners got in touch with me.”

“They were just a team that took a chance on me, and they believed in me and they said that they wanted me to be the guy. That’s all I needed. I knew that as soon as the team did that, it’d be a great opportunity for me to come in and prove the other teams kind of wrong, that didn’t take a chance on me.”

A year away from joining the European League of Football as their newest expansion franchise, the Enthroners assembled a star-studded import crew for one last run at national dominance. Merchant was the headliner and he succeeded in the team’s goal of seizing the Hungarian national championship, though the work is not finished.

Chris Merchant getting the ball away Photo: Pix by Tomi

On Saturday, the Enthroners will clash with the Czech champion Prague Lions in the CEFL Cup final, before challenging for an Austrian second division title the following week. After coming up short in his previous two championship games before arriving in Hungary, Merchant has a unique opportunity to win three in three weeks.

“It’s very cool,” he grinned. “I mean, that’s European football at its finest.”

After that stretch of games, the questions will turn to Merchant’s future. The quarterback acknowledged that there have been conversations about him returning to lead the Enthroners into their first ELF season, but nothing official is in place. He’s done all he can to prove he’s up to the task and hopes the team sees it the same way, noting that the level of competition in Hungary is criminally under-rated.

“I’ve been super impressed. I would say it’s on par with or better than Spanish football and I think what Barcelona is proving right now in the ELF is that Spanish football is really good as well,” Merchant said. “There is talent out there and I think with these countries that are considered lower down in the football world, it comes down to coaching. If you’ve got a good coach and you have the guys around, I think that Hungary can prove that they’re one of the best countries in Europe.”

Whether or not his services are retained, Merchant will be leaving the continent shortly after the Enthroners’ final game and heading to Australia to live out a lifelong dream of visiting the land down under. Signed on to quarterback the UNSW Raiders in Sydney, he acknowledges that it may be a lower level of football than Europe but that isn’t what matters to him.

“What I’m really excited about is that I get to coach kids and develop the game there as well,” Merchant said. “That’s always been a passion of mine, being able to help people find the love of the game that I did at a young age, and then just get to live in a great city…  How many times do you get to go Australia and live there for five months and it’s not really on your own budget?”

Chris Merchant finding yardage during Hungarian Bowl Photo: Pix by Tomi

It’s a lifestyle he’s grown to love and while he once dreamed of playing professionally back home in the Canadian Football League, now he’s not so sure. His brief training camp stint with the Montreal Alouettes left a sour taste in his mouth that could only be washed away by playing in an environment he felt wanted.

“I never got a chance. I was treated completely unfairly, in my opinion. I didn’t get any reps at training camp, they brought me in for media purposes and got rid of me saying, yeah, we’ll bring you back next year,” he notes. “Obviously it didn’t happen.”

While young players like Merchant’s occasional training partner Nathan Rourke and former college rival Tre Ford are proving Canadian quarterbacks can excel at the highest level, Merchant may be better off for the opportunity he missed.

“I’m 100 percent confident that I have the talent. Will I ever go back and get that opportunity? I’m not sure, because I do really enjoy my life right now,” he said. “Getting to travel all over the world playing the sport I love and there’s so much uncertainty with the CFL all the time right now, is it worth it to try and come back? It’s always a question I’m thinking about.”

In the end, it doesn’t seem to matter about the size or reputation of the league Merchant finds himself in. Championship contention always follows his arrival.

Watch Chris Merchant and the Enthroners play the Prague Lions in the CEFL Cup final, Saturday, July 23 at 15:00 CET (3 pm, 9 am ET)

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.