CFL unveils first 24 global players who'll participate in the CFL combine

The Canadian Press

TORONTO — It's been quite the start to 2020 for Greg Quick.

Since January, the CFL's director of global scouting has conducted player combines in Finland, Sweden, France, Italy, England, Germany and Japan. Combines also are planned in Copenhagen (Feb. 29), Belo Horizonte, Brazil (March 7) and Mexico City (March 15).

While in Denmark, Quick and Calgary Stampeders offensive co-ordinator Pat DelMonaco will hold football clinics.

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It's all part of commissioner Randy Ambrosie's CFL 2.0 initiative to grow football globally. But it's up to the 63-year-old Quick — a longtime college and CFL coach — to identify international players capable of making the transition to the Canadian game.

Last year, the first season of the initiative, international players had limited impact.

"We went into (this off-season combines) hopeful that the talent will deliver and allow us to feed CFL 2.0 but we've exceeded that," Quick said. "We will be able to feed 2.0 and sustain it.

"I think it's going to be exciting at the (CFL) combine because we're going to have the global athletes and our Canadian athletes there together. I don't think they're competing against each other, they're competing with each other and it's going to add a level of competitiveness that we haven't had."

On Friday, the league unveiled the first 24 global players who'll participate in the CFL combine March 26-28 in Toronto. The participants will showcase their skills for Canadian team officials and have an opportunity to interview with coaches and front-office personnel in preparation for the league's global draft April 16.

Three notable global players are Japanese running back Taku Lee, French receiver Anthony Mahoungou and Swedish defensive end Malcolm Engstrom.

The six-foot, 195-pound Taku had the fastest shuttle time of the invitees (four seconds) and the second-best 40-yard dash (4.64 seconds) to go with a 34.5-inch vertical and broad jump of nine feet 7 3/4 inches. Mahoungou, a six-foot-three, 209-pound former Purdue Boilermaker who attended a Philadelphia Eagles camp, recorded a 35-inch vertical, a broad jump of nine feet 11 inches and a 4.20-second shuttle to go with a 40-yard dash time of 4.68 seconds.

The six-foot-four, 232-pound Engstrom had 12 reps in the bench press but ran a solid 4.96 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He also had a 27-inch vertical,a  broad jump of nine feet one inch and 4.40-second shuttle.

"Taku Lee is a very exciting talent, he's made for the CFL," Quick said. "He'll get on (special) teams but can go in the backfield and catches the ball.

"When Mahoungou was a senior at Purdue, one of every five touches he had was a touchdown. He's a talented young man who reminds me of several players already in our league and I think he's going to compete. Engstrom was kind of a surprise to us and I think he's going to show well at the combine."

Last season, CFL teams carried one global player on their active rosters and had the opportunity to have as many as two on the practice roster. This year, clubs will have two global players in uniform each game and up to three on the practice roster.

With CFL game-day rosters being limited to 45 players, Quick said clubs can't afford to carry to global players incapable of contributing.

"We can't have two jerseys singing the national anthem and then sitting on the bench," he said. "We have to hold them to the same expectation we do every other player, that they're going to contribute in some way to that team's success.

"That's my responsibility to deliver a level of talent that's going to open people's eyes. There are players who'll be there in March who I believe will open some eyes."

One of the most productive global players last season was German Thiadric Hansen, who went second overall to Winnipeg in the CFL's inaugural European draft. The six-foot-two, 243-pound defensive lineman appeared in all of the Blue Bombers' games and became part of the Grey Cup champions' defensive line rotation, registering five tackles, a sack and two forced fumbles.

Hansen delivered one of the most memorable plays in Winnipeg's 33-12 Grey Cup win over Hamilton, taking out both Canadian Mike Daly and returner Frankie Williams on a first-half punt return.

Getting solid production from global players also benefits a CFL team's bottom line. The minimum salary for international players this year is $54,000 — $11,000 less than the league minimum for Canadians and Americans — so the more they do, the bigger bang clubs get for their buck.

But Quick isn't acting unilaterally. Before heading overseas, he spoke with all nine CFL GMs regarding how they planned using their global roster spots moving forward and what traits they most desired in the overseas players. 

"One of the best windows to the field (for global players) is through special teams," Quick said. "So we're looking for those guys who run, change direction and have the skill-set to transfer, who can tackle."

Quick and CFL officials are doing more than just gathering measurables and test results. Following each session, a discussion is held with the participants to educate them on what lies ahead in terms of the Toronto combine and the expectations that exist in professional football.

"We give them an honest, realistic level of expectation when they come to the (CFL) combine, training camp, what they'll get paid, when they get paid, what their medical looks like, all that kind of stuff," Quick said. "That way there's no surprises.

"They're going to make their home here and they're going to be contributing members of both the football and residential communities. It's important we deliver committed players as well as talent that can impact team successes."

Quick has been pleasantly surprised by enthusiasm players have displayed at the various combines. He said each country is unique in its approach to the game.

"For example, the French don't necessarily (have) the biggest or fastest players but they're very creative in how they play the game," Quick said. "They're going to maximize their talent.

"The Germans are who you'd expect, there's a lot of big, strong guys. The Japanese are very precise, very well coached. The Scandinavian countries and even Great Britain, are very diverse as far as the type of athletes they have."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 14, 2020.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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