Global players assume bigger roles as CFL season enters running

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Graphic: Igor Lazarevic

The Canadian football league nearing the end of the regular season and just six weeks into the shortened 2021 campaign, Global players are playing a bigger role than ever.

Each of the league’s nine teams must dress one international athlete per game and so far 20 players from 11 different countries have managed to achieve their professional football dreams in 2021. Revolutionary punters who thrive on the LCF to starting-caliber offensive linemen, to special team demons to defensive contributors, almost every team has at least one Global to have an impact.

To see how each of these active list participants fared, here’s a look at how they performed from west to east.

Niklas Gustav, DE, BC Lions (Germany) – Gustav joined the Lions roster in week three and did not leave. The former NAIA star with Morningside College has five special team tackles in six games played, which isn’t bad for the final pick in the World Draft.

BC Lions LB Niklas Gustav

Jake Ford, P, British Columbia Lions (Australia) – The first overall pick in the World Draft was solid in the first two weeks of the season as a bettor from British Columbia, but had to miss the Lions game of Week 3 in order to receive his American green card. American Stefan Flintoft showed a big leg in his absence and the aforementioned Gustav performed well, meaning Ford hasn’t seen the field since.

Steven Nielsen, OT, Edmonton Elks (Denmark) – The East Michigan Great Dane made an emergency start for Edmonton in Week 2 against Montreal and was the sixth offensive lineman for much of the season, but fell out of the roster in week 10 due to the club’s struggles on special teams. It could come back soon, as more injuries along the offensive line make Nielsen a valuable player to have.

Tibo Debaillie, DT, Edmonton Elks (Belgium) – Debaillie was part of the Elks’ active roster out of training camp, dressing in the team’s first two games and playing on special teams without leaving a mark on the stats sheet. The roster reshuffle has seen him on the practice squad ever since, but former Towson Tiger remains a viable option for Edmonton

Maxime Rouyer, LB, Edmonton Elks (France) – With special teams being an urgent concern, Rouyer was added to the Elks roster in Week 10 to bolster the cover teams. He didn’t fix the issues, but he added a special teams tackle in his only appearance.

Cody Grace, P, Calgary Stampeders (Australia) – Grace has been nothing short of outstanding since claiming the punt in Calgary and her 45.9 yard average doesn’t do him justice. When field position is factored in, CFL analyst Derek Taylor averaged more than six more yards per punt than expected. This is the second highest number since he started tracking the metric.

John Henry Nell, K, Saskatchewan Roughriders (South Africa) – Seriously lacking in world talent, Saskatchewan dressed Nell as an additional kicker for the first three weeks of the season, using him as a simple clipboard holder and tee delivery system.

Chris Ezeala, DE / FB, Saskatchewan Roughriders (Germany) – A late addition who joined the club in Week 5, Ezeala hasn’t quite had the impact some expected, and his role remains small. In six games, the former Baltimore Raven is yet to appear on the stats sheet.

Thiadric Hansen, DE, Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Germany) – In 2019, Hansen starred in the world program after recording five defensive tackles, two special teams tackles, one sack and two forced fumbles in 21 games, including the playoffs. So far this year he’s only played nine and is poised to break his previous marks with five defensive tackles, nine special teams tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble during that span.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers DE Thiadric Hansen

Winnipeg’s Maruo, LB, Blue Bombers (Japan) – Maruo has been left out of the roster reshuffle in recent weeks, but he proved his worth at the start of the year. The former UTSA Roadrunner made six special teams tackles in seven games to start the year.

Sergio Schiaffino Perez, DB, Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Mexico) – Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said during training camp he would take any opportunity to give his spirited Mexican DB a chance to play the game in his second season. The chance came in Week 9 against British Columbia and Schiaffino Perez took full advantage of it, scoring his very first special teams tackle.

Joel Whitford, P, Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Australia) – A minor injury has kept Whitford from playing a handful of games this season, but he is still the top punter in Hamilton. The University of Washington product is averaging 44.7 yards per punt this season.

Valentin Gnahoua, DE, Hamilton Tiger-Cats (France) – Hamilton put Gnahoua in the lineup as soon as he was up to it after a brief absence from training camp due to the confidence that special teams coordinator Jeff Reinebold has in him. He’s been a major blocker in eight games, but has just one special teams tackle in kicking coverage.

Asnnel Robo, RB, Toronto Argonauts (France) – Despite his small size, Robo’s speed and tenacity earned him more chances in his second season in the CFL. The 5’7 full-back has played all nine games for the Boatmen, making three special teams tackles.

Tigie Sankoh, DB, Toronto Argonauts (UK) – A coveted first-round pick in the World Draft, Sankoh’s continued absence from the Toronto squad surprised some. The former Cleveland Brown dressed in Week 8, recording a special teams tackle in his only appearance.

Tyron Vrede, LB, Ottawa Redblacks (Netherlands) – Unsurprisingly to those who watched him in North Dakota, Vrede became a Redblacks collaborator early in his CFL career. He’s recorded five special teams tackles so far and entered the defensive rotation in each of the last two games, scoring one defensive tackle in each.

Ottawa RED and BLACK LB Tyron Vrede

Christopher Ferguson, OT, Ottawa Redblacks (Bahamas) – A battered Ottawa offensive line forced Ferguson into the roster for left tackle in the last two games, making the Nassau native the second world player to debut in the CFL this year. He was helpful in the role, just as he was at the University of Cincinnati.

Joseph Zema, P, Montreal Alouettes (Australia) – Zema is one of the most consistent of this rookie class of Australian punters and one of the top specialists in the East Division, averaging 46.1 yards per kick.

Taku Lee, RB, Montreal Alouettes (Japan) – One of the world’s foremost players in a specialist role, Lee has carved out a place in the roster in the last four games. He made two special teams tackles during that span and became the first Global to carry the ball, returning a pair of kicks for 48 yards in Week 7.

Montreal Alouettes RB Taku Lee

Takeru Yamasaki, K, free agent (Japan) – After winning the BC starting kicker job at training camp, Yamasaki’s whirlwind trip to the CFL lasted just two weeks. He became the first Japanese player to score a point in the CFL, but struggled to stay consistent under the pressure. He only went 4 of 8 in two games, scoring poorly on a few chip shots before being released by the club


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