GET­TING EVEN ONE MEX­I­CAN PLAYER TO CFL IS BIG DEAL

Regina Leader-Post - - SPORTS - DAN BARNES [email protected]­media.com Twit­ter.com/sports­dan­barnes

One guy.

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.

DAN BARNES

Wide re­ceiver Hum­berto Nor­iega chats with Cal­gary Stam­ped­ers head coach Dave Dick­en­son dur­ing the CFL com­bine held over the week­end in Mex­ico City.

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