The Canadian Football League held its second Global Draft back in April. Teams made their selections from a variety of talent on offer from all parts of the world.
Players from as far afield as Australia, the UK, Japan, Germany, Denmark, France, South Africa, Nigeria, China and others were picked up by teams looking to bolster their rosters for the 2021 CFL season.
Positions from linebacker, kicker and punter to offensive tackle and defensive end were filled. In total, 36 players from 18 countries were drafted.
So, now that we’re into the 2021 season, 13th Man Sports thought it would be an opportune time to gauge how both players and executives in the front office feel about it. Do they think it’s a useful tool and is it something that should become a key pillar of the league’s structure in the future?
Defensive end Thiadric Hansen, who plays for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, is perhaps the pin-up boy of the Global Draft. He’s now into his second season after being the second overall pick in the inaugural CFL Global Draft in 2019. And so far this season, he has produced more good form.
Some rookie global players have started to get themselves noticed too. Japanese linebacker Les Maruo (Winnipeg) and Australian punter Joel Whitford (Hamilton) are making themselves known.
For Maruo, who hails from Yokkaichi, Japan, his playing career started at the University of Texas-San Antonio. When he finished his U-S collegiate stint, he returned to Japan and played for the Asahi Challengers in the X-League. Two years with them got him an invite to the CFL’s Global combine in Japan and from there it was onto the Global Draft.
He was the Blue Bombers’ first pick, fourth overall, and followed that up with an impressive training camp.
“This is something I’ve been waiting for, praying for and hoping for,” Maruo said. “I feel like God has given me the opportunity to play in the CFL, so I can’t take it for granted.”
In Whitford’s case, he grew up in Gippsland in the Australian state of Victoria, which is the heartland of Aussie Rules Football. He played the uniquely Australian game through high school and eventually ended up playing at the semi-pro level in the Victorian Football League in Geelong.
From there he signed up with Prokick Australia, a Melbourne-based business that specializes in teaching Aussie Rules and rugby players how to punt the ball gridiron-style with the aim of eventually getting them into the CFL or NFL.
His experience with Prokick landed him a place on the football team at the Santa Barbara Community College in southern California. After a season there, he transferred to the University of Washington to play in the Pac-12 and from there he was listed in the CFL Global Draft.
“I’m a huge advocate for the Global Draft,” said Whitford. “It’s definitely the reason I was brought in.”
“It allows players like me, who didn’t grow up playing American football, who didn’t grow up in America or Canada, an avenue to perform on the stage of the CFL.”
“I think the whole initiative is great to try to get more global interest in the CFL. There are guys on my team from London and Finland. I personally like the idea of having a little more diversity in the locker room. I think that’s a good thing. And if they can impact a football game too, it’s even better.”
“Hopefully, we pave the way for more internationals to come and play in the pros in Canada. So yeah, a big thumbs up from me for the Global Draft!”
Quite clearly, it’s no surprise that the overseas, or global, players are sold on the idea of the Global Draft, but what about the folks who sign their paycheques? How do they see it?
Well, if Winnipeg General Manager Kyle Walters is any indication, then yes, folks in the front office around the league see it as being beneficial to their teams.
“You’re seeing a lot more global players playing, which is the whole objective,” said Walters.
“Obviously here with Thiadric (Hansen), we have seen some success early on in this process, and now we are dressing two with Les as well, so we are happy with how it’s gone to date.”
So, it remains to be seen whether the CFL Global Draft becomes part and parcel of every offseason in the future, and at this point in time, there’s no reason to think it won’t.