Getting even one Mexican player to CFL is big deal
They find one Mexican kid who can play in Canada and this talent search, which is but one phase of the CFL’s global outreach initiative, will have been worth an admittedly limited investment of time and money.
Says who? Rick Campbell, for one.
“If there is one guy out of this whole thing who ends up playing in the CFL, that’s great,” said the Ottawa Redblacks head coach. “And you never know. I think that’s what’s kind of fun about it, finding those players who come out of nowhere and all of a sudden they start contributing.”
That one guy might be Gerardo Alvarez, the wide receiver who generated the noise B.C. Lions GM Ed Hervey predicted one of the 50 Mexican university and pro players would make at Sunday’s groundbreaking combine.
If anybody runs a 4.6-second time in the 40-yard dash on grass, Hervey said, you’ll hear it.
Sure enough, near the end of the morning testing session, Alvarez ran a blazing 4.64 and sent up a chorus of whoops from Liga de Futbol Americano Profesional officials and the smattering of fans at Estadio Azul.
So the kid has straight line speed, and that’s something. He’s physically fit, too. He can jump and move laterally. And he can catch the football. He was named the top receiver in the LFA in its inaugural 2016 season.
“It would be a blessing, a blessing from God,” Alvarez said, if this opportunity of a lifetime — and that is absolutely how these players view it — turns into a crack at a CFL roster in June or a year from now, or whenever.
“It would give me the opportunity to grow and improve, first as a person, then as an athlete. This is the dream that all of the guys who play in Mexico want to become true. It will be amazing if there is an opportunity up there.”
He has been up there, in Toronto, to be exact. He knows all about the Argos, and his favourite player was Chad Owens. Maybe because they have similar body types. Alvarez didn’t go to the 100th Grey Cup but he was in the city at the time, and he loved the atmosphere.
“I want to come back. It is a beautiful goal of mine. If this is the way to get back there, well, God, you are amazing.”
If that one guy isn’t Alvarez, maybe it’s another wide receiver, Humberto Noriega. He got a glowing reference from his former university coach Eric Fisher and was seen chatting with Calgary head coach Dave Dickenson.
But Noriega came up with a left leg injury and wasn’t at his best on Sunday. He was the top receiver in university ball for three years, set a national record with 68 receptions in nine games, won three national titles, and went on to play with the Artilleros of the LFA. He’s been a practising lawyer for a year, but stays in shape, and has the same big dream as Alvarez.
“I’m not sure it’s 100 per cent real, but it seems real,” he said, of the opportunity.
“It is a big thing for us and we’re hoping to make it, catch balls, score touchdowns and keep playing football. And make history. Be the first ones to go there.”
The CFL leadership certainly hopes it happens, but team personnel aren’t going to give anyone a free pass onto the field.
“You’ve got to have the best product you can on the field but you also like to reach out and get fans in different areas,” said Dickenson. “I’m all for it, actually, but I’m not playing a guy as a coach because he’s a certain nationality. You don’t want your hand forced and I don’t think we’d ever get to that point anyway.
“There is no reason we can’t find good players around the world, and that different areas of the world identify with that player and you promote that player from Germany or Mexico. That’s the goal Randy is selling. I’m buying into that and I’m just here looking for guys.”
Maybe that guy is Octavio Gonzalez, a defensive lineman and fine physical specimen who impressed in one-on-one drills.
All they need is one guy. But he has to deserve the shot.
“I believe that would be a success for this overall vision,” Hervey said. “We’re not going to bring in a guy who just flat out cannot play. We’re still going to be fair to the game of football. But we do believe there is going to be a player or two at some point, if not this year then in the next couple of years, who is going to get that opportunity, who will earn his way, outside of the kicking position. I think that will be the bigger accomplishment for this.”
Kicker Carlos Maltos was in the B.C. camp last year, but lost a job to Ty Long. Maltos was showing off his leg Sunday, nailing field goals from 45-yards plus, and kickoffs from 65.
Kickers who move on to football from soccer are not uncommon. But there was skill at receiver, too. And linebacker and defensive back. And that was a pleasant realization.
“I came here to see, to support and to find the best athletes,” Hervey said. “The guys with enough skill who can come into camp and compete and not, as we say, embarrass themselves. That’s the guy we’re looking for.”
One guy. Maybe they found him on Sunday.
Wide receiver Humberto Noriega chats with Calgary Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson during the CFL combine held over the weekend in Mexico City.