Football no longer just for Americans

Every Saturday afternoon in the fall, hundreds of young men across Canada run onto their university’s football field with little more than numbers on their chest, logos on their helmets and fire in their hearts.

Almost all of these young men have reached the pinnacle of their athletic career, playing only for pride, honour and lasting memories.

For years these university athletes have been told they are too small, too raw, not talented enough to crack a CFL roster and certainly not an NFL roster.

But a curious trend is unveiling itself: Canadians are getting really good at playing football.
This off-season, a total of 11 CFL players have already signed NFL contracts, two of which are Canadians: Rolly Lumbala and Dmitri Tsoumpas. The oldest player of the 11 is only 28 years old, with most coming in at 23 and 24 years of age. This tells me that the NFL teams aren’t looking for a short-term fix on their roster but rather a long-term investment in their club’s future.

The knee-jerk reaction of most football fans is that this is bad for the CFL; we are losing both our Canadian and American talent.

On Jan. 12 David Naylor from the Globe and Mail wrote emphatically on this subject and came to the conclusion that we should embrace a culture of “losing” our best players to the NFL because it can mean only good things for the CFL.

What Naylor did not mention is the potential ramifications this trend will have on the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) and the way football players from the university league will be viewed in the future, and indeed already are being viewed.

Consider this: last season, for the first time in history, a CIS underclassman was drafted by an NFL team. I’m not talking about some punter taken in the seventh round- defensive end Vaughn Martin was selected in the fourth round by the San Diego Chargers.

The Chargers placed their confidence in him, and he made their roster out of training camp and played in 10 games for a (former) Super Bowl contender.

Likewise, after his senior year at Bishop’s, running back Jamal Lee was given a contract in the off-season by the Carolina Panthers.

He was their final cut in the pre-season while trying to break into a backfield that included stars DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.

Cory Greenwood, a linebacker from Concordia, is the second-ranked player for the upcoming CFL draft and has signed up at the Parisi Speed School in New Jersey, which has been the choice training ground for 127 NFL draftees in recent years.

Sam Giguere, a receiver for Sherbrooke, was activated late this season for the Indianapolis Colts and could see some playing time in the AFC championship game and maybe even the Super Bowl.

This past season in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA), two quarterbacks passed the 5,000 yard mark for career passing yards. The titanic duel between Dan Brannagan and Michael Faulds was the stuff of legends, and Canadians were swept up in nostalgia thinking of another legend, Russ Jackson, and the day we might finally see a Canadian taking snaps and leading a CFL team once again.

CIS stadiums are demanding expansions, the Vanier Cup is airing on the country’s leading sports broadcaster and the playoffs this past season delivered historic, record-shattering numbers all the way from Victoriaville to Victoria.

Considering this recent trend it’s likely we’re going to start seeing some of these men run onto the field on Sundays instead of Saturdays.