Ferguson: Celebrating diversity from the Global Draft

Trapped in the middle of an uncertain time, reluctant to leave the house and reaching back in the memory bank daily for great CFL moments to bring much needed brevity, I have to admit the 2021 CFL Global Draft brought a smile to my face.

It’s difficult to explain, in part because the experience is so new. We don’t have an ingrained sense of pride in the process or a multitude of success stories to lean on as imperial evidence that the global initiative has proven to be an integral part of the CFL’s future – yet.

The simple act of receiving a phone call from a CFL Head Coach or General Manager caught on video sent a sense of relief across me, that amongst all the craziness we’re facing as a collective, hard work can still be recognized as we expand our borders and our future reach.

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Jake Ford was selected first overall by the BC Lions in Thursday’s Global Draft (Photo: Ouachita Athletics)

You might believe that there were too many punters taken making the process somehow lose legitimacy, or that global players are about to be hidden in order to meet 2021 roster requirements as currently constituted, but that opinion just shows a lack of deference to the long-term vision that is global football.

In reality, days like Thursday are the building blocks of a long term goal to have the CFL represented across the planet as a marquee landing spot for international talent, which – make no mistake – is improving in quality and quantity available year-over-year.

The question now becomes how can the 2021 draft class fit into 2021 rosters?

I get it, you see a defensive back from Sweden or a defensive lineman from Nigeria and you – verbally or not – scoff at the idea, even for a second, because you’re not conditioned to think of these as pro football factories, which is why I believe we need to shift our entire prism around CFL Global Draft picks.

Stop thinking about them as players from a country traditionally unequipped to train, coach and teach the game to adequately and start thinking of them like you would a Canadian draft pick.

We don’t criticize the stories of U SPORTS draft picks who picked up the game two years before getting drafted 21st overall like Kay Okafor to the Ticats in 2017 or Ottawa Gee-Gees pass rusher Alain Pae taken 13th overall to Edmonton in 2020. We celebrate them.

We need to do the same for global players, because their stories differ – often exclusively – in geography and language. The love for the game, the drive, the athleticism and the want to be a CFL player are all there.

Some of you cast doubt across the process believing there isn’t a crystal clear fit in current rosters for these players, but the heightened level of NCAA caliber globals readily available for play suggests otherwise.

Calgary experienced great success with Rob Maver at punter, a Guelph Gryphon who worked his way onto the roster as the 5th overall pick in 2010 and refused to give up the role for ten years before retiring. What’s to say Australian Punter from Arkansas State Cody Grace won’t step in and do the same?

Winnipeg maximized the value of the Global Draft in 2019 taking Thiadric Hansen, who dazzled on special teams and quickly endeared himself to the Manitoba faithful. Why can’t Japan’s Les Maruo create that same buzz as Mike O’Shea and Kyle Walters build out a roster role for strictly global linebackers?

French receiver Anthony Mahoungou was selected ninth overall by the Ottawa REDBLACKS. (Purdue Athletics)

The Ottawa REDBLACKS receiving room took a hit in 2021 free agency but old faithful Brad Sinopoli and XFL transfer Jalen Saunders are ready and waiting to kickoff 2021, so why couldn’t French receiver Anthony Mahoungou learn the ropes and contribute after being taken 9th overall Thursday by Marcel Desjardins, Paul LaPolice and co.?

Hamilton invested a first round pick in Winnipeg native and North Dakota pass rushing alum Mason Bennett in the 2020 Canadian draft, and why can’t Finland’s black belt, judo pocket-pusher Chris Mulumba from the University of Colorado join a promising core of raw, potential-filled Ticats of American, Canadian and now Global descent?

They all can under the right circumstances, if they’re fully embraced by their surroundings and are given the chance to see if they have the goods to make and play on a CFL roster.

In a time full of polarizing hatred being called out, I choose to believe in the beauty of a CFL kickoff that sees flags of the world proudly displayed in stadiums across Canada as 2021 Global draftees stand shoulder to shoulder with NCAA division one stars and home grown U SPORTS products.

As Ticats Head Coach Orlondo Steinauer recently stated in his Hall of Fame acceptance press conference, “Diversity is strength is a great shirt but I like to say our strength is in our unity.”

With glowing hearts we see thee rise, to join our game in the true North strong and free.

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