German WR Max Zimmermann enjoying life as a Saskatchewan Roughrider in Canada

German wide receiver Max Zimmermann is one of five European CFL players who is living out his dream, playing professional football for the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Canadian Football League.

Life has taken a huge turn for Zimmermann, a Berlin, Germany native. He had been preparing for the season with his team in the German Football League, the Potsdam Royals, when he was suddenly handpicked as one of 18 players from Europe to attend the CFL Combine in late March this year. Following a draft of the European/Global players he wound up at training camp with Saskatchewan.

He made it through the rigors of training camp and is now a member of one of Canada’s nine CFL teams, living in a city of just over 200,000 located 4,500 miles from home, in the middle of the prairies in Canada.

He did not start the year thinking this could happen, let alone dream of it.

In the revolving roster door of the CFL, or any professional league for that matter, rookies find themselves bounced around a bit. So far, Zimmermann has been added to the active game roster once this year, but knows there will be plenty of more opportunities.

As the team comes off of a bye week and prepares for the next home game this Sunday, July 21 when they host the BC Lions, American Football International asked Max about living in Regina, about the differences between playing professionally in Canada compared to Germany and much more.

AFI: You are playing your first season as a full professional in the Canadian Football League. Describe the differences between that and playing at home in Germany.

Zimmermann: The biggest difference is basically the time you have to put in work on your body and prepare for the game and practices. When I was in Germany I always had to work and take care of daily stuff. Here I can fully focus on football, starting my day with a little workout/warmup before practice starts at 9 am. It’s great, I always dreamed about this, having a full workday just football and working on your body and mental game to perform well on the field.

AFI: You are living in a small town in Saskatchewan far from the rest of the world so to speak. How much of an adjustment has that been?

Zimmermann: I didn’t felt it to much until we had a bye week. First thing I noticed was the traffic. Like here, there is not really a time in the day where there is any bad traffic and that’s a great feeling. Living in Berlin, you have to fight for parking slots everyday, you’re always caught in traffic no matter the time. That’s a big difference. It feels like heaven here driving around. But when we had the first bye week and you take a bit of time away from football, there is not much to do here… it’s not really a problem for me honestly it was just a weird feeling the first days. We got some nice spots here and around the city, I guess it just takes a bit of time to know where everything’s at.

AFI: The rules in the CFL are different than in American football. What rules have affected you the most?

Zimmermann: It’s not one rule in general but more the system that was totally new for me which is changing because of different rules. All the motion before the snap in the offensive backfield, the waggle, also makes a lot of impact on route depth that you are normally used to in Germany/American football

AFI: Is there any specific rule that makes a difference for you?

Zimmermann: Like I said the waggle is a difference maker, but as soon as you figure out how to really use it, it’s a big advantage for receivers. For example, routes are longer in the CFL, deeper.Like corner routes, where in Germany, the breaking point is at eight yards. At the five steps there are 12 yards. Here in the CFL this starts at 14 yards. If we do different things with the quarterback, it can also be 16 or 18 yards. Now you have this backfield motion, meaning you are already running six to eight yards before you get to the line of scrimmage, which means you’re running 20 yards and not just 14. These are things have to become habit and you have to relearn other things.

In the first weeks I felt like I was learning to play football again. I  had to work hard to make these adjustments and sometimes I felt frustrated. But all you can do is stay focused. And that worked out well. I feel more and more comfortable in my role and I have fought to get back to my old form.

AFI: How does the team use you?

Zimmermann: So far mostly as a wideout. I’m working on getting a better special teams player, i never played special teams except of returning. So one of my biggest goals is to improve as a special teams player this year so I can help the team in that phase of the game.

AFI: What do your family and friends think of this?

Zimmermann: Like I said in the beginning of this journey, they know this was always a dream for me being here having the chance to play as a pro. They were/are with me through all highs and even more lows and setbacks that I had to take over the last few years, so I think for them its a big satisfaction and they just enjoying the way I do, seeing the dream come true.

AFI: You have played in one game so far.

Zimmermann: I was just dressed for the first game. I didn’t get any playing time in that game but it was incredible being a part of it. Honestly it was just a game. I was nervous/excited like in every game before. Only difference was that I was still feeling good the next day, no aches and pains.

AFI: What is the biggest difference between the CFL and playing in Europe?

Zimmermann: The professionalism. Everything is thought through here down to the last detail, nothing is done half-heartedly. That does not mean that people do not want to do things better back home in Germany. But it is just not possible yet for the clubs to operate at this level. Everything here from the facilities and stadium to everything else is 100% professional including everyone on the team and the league from management down to the physiotherapist. Everyone is fully involved, that makes all the difference.

AFI: You are on a team with what many people describe as an amazing fan base. What are your thoughts?

Zimmermann: You can’t describe it and you not gonna know how it feels running out the tunnel or being on the sideline when the team is coming out. This is a special place here. In the game against Toronto we had a big delay of about 2 hours because of rain and lightning . So when the game continued I didn’t think any fans would be left when we came back out. But even though it was 10 pm they were all still there, 30,000 or more. Like I said it’s a special place and fan base over here.

AFI: In Regina, Canadian football and the Roughriders are hugely popular. How much have you experienced?

Zimmermann: You see the Riders logo everywhere almost everyone who you talk to is a die hard Rider fan. Sometimes when you walk into a store people kinda know who you are or know you’re playing for the Riders. That’s all new and crazy for me. I guess if you played college football it’s like walking around on campus but most people in Germany don’t even know about our league, the GFL.

Watch Max Zimmermann this Sunday, July 21 when Saskatchewan hosts the BC Lions at Mosaic Stadium in Regina. The game will be livestreamed on American Football Internatioanal. Game time is 5 pm local time which means 1 am July 22 Central European Time.


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