The CFL has two unusual non-imports in training camps this season, and they come from the land down under. Both have played Australian rules football, but they're new to the Canadian game and will be trying to catch on as punters at first. 31-year-old Scott Crough is in camp with the Calgary Stampeders, while 27-year-old Josh Bartel is with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. It's going to be interesting to watch the duo compete, both from a perspective of their stories and from a perspective of what this means for Canadian talent.
First, let's take a look at Crough. He's played in the second tier of the Australian league, but never became a full-fledged pro there (unlike older brother Justin) thanks to his desire to pursue a career as a painter. He's been investigating options overseas, though, and after failing to catch on with the NFL, worked out for Calgary coaches last August. They liked what they saw enough to add him to their negotiation list, and as Allen Cameron reports, Crough made a crucial purchase before heading home:
Of all the purchases made at the McMahon Stadium Stamps' Store in 2011, Scott Crough's might have been the most significant.
The Australian punter visited Calgary last August for an informal workout for Stampeder coaches, who evidently liked what they saw from the former Aussie Rules player because they told him they planned to add the lanky 31-year-old to their negotiation list. Until then, all of Crough's training to be the rare overseas product to make it in our style of football had been with an NFL football, and he recognized there are some subtle, but important, differences in the two balls. So, after the workout, he walked to the Stamps' Store and bought an official CFL football to take home to Australia.
"I thought, well, I have to bring one of these things home with me if they're going to put me on their negotiation list," recalled Crough on Wednesday, his final day of preparation before officially beginning life as a Stampeder with this morning's opening session of rookie camp (10 a.m., McMahon Stadium). "The team sent me some more (after signing him in February), but I wore that first one out. I would have to kick the ball and run after it, because I didn't want to confuse myself by kicking with different footballs."
Crough is in a battle with Rob Maver for the team's punting slot, and he seems to be performing pretty well thus far. As Ian Busby relates, though, Canada requires him to make numerous adjustments both on and off the field
The punting part isn't really the toughest thing.
Remembering which way to look when he crosses the street is priority No. 1.
"Just the idea of going back to the dorms, I nearly got banged up," said the 31-year-old Australian. "It wouldn't have been a good start."
...During the first day of rookie camp, he worked with long-snapper Randy Chevrier in the morning and faced the rush in the afternoon session.
"I've never had it before," Crough said. "I tried to simulate that back home. It's not the same.
Similarly, Bartel's going to face a learning curve in Hamilton if he wants to stick around the CFL. He might have a bit of an easier time, though; while Calgary has a couple of experienced guys on the roster in Maver and Paredes, the Tiger-Cats have a reasonably open competition to replace NFL-bound Justin Medlock. Canadians Josh Maveety and Luca Congi are in the mix too, but neither's exactly dominated the CFL thus far, so the punting job at least could be Bartel's for the taking if he performs well in camp. As he told Australia's Border Mail, his ambitions are even grander, though; he'd love to do well in the CFL and head off to the NFL after his two-year contract finishes:
"It's pretty hard to break straight into the NFL so, hopefully, this helps," Bartel said.
"I'll do the work and hopefully my stats stack up. I'm kicking well."
From a storylines perspective, it would be fantastic to see Crough and Bartel make their respective teams. No Australian's played in the CFL since Mark Harris suited up in Montreal in 1973, and it would be tremendous for this league to expand its international reach a bit. However, there is still a sense of Canadian jobs potentially being lost here; the Australians count as non-imports thanks to receiving football training outside the U.S. growing up, so they're Canadians for roster purposes. Thus, if they make the rosters, Canadian players like Maver and Maveety may not. Of course, changing the Australians' non-import status would probably mean that no CFL team would take a chance on Aussies, electing instead to go with the more-proven American kickers, and that would be unfortunate too. At the moment, it's probably just worth keeping an eye on; if Crough and/or Bartel can do well enough to win CFL jobs, good for them, and they won't exactly have made Canadian kickers extinct league-wide in the process. If this becomes common enough that every team wants to bring in Australians instead of Canadians, though, then it might be worth revisiting the roster rules.