Latvia’s Karlis Brauns catching eyes of pro scouts, with and without pink hair

Karlis Brauns is used to turning heads when he walks into a room, but rarely quite like this.

The Latvian defensive end has become one of European football’s most recognizable faces over the last number of years thanks to his shockingly dyed hair, usually a shade of radioactive neon pink. When he walked in front of a room of pro football scouts last Friday, he opted for a simpler platinum blonde look, but attracted no less attention.

Instead, it was his chiseled 6’4, 270-pound frame that had talent evaluators scribbling furiously in their notebooks on the opening night of the College Gridiron Showcase in Fort Worth, Texas. It was the reaction Brauns was hoping for, tossing aside his trademark hair lest it be seen as a distraction.

“Actually, I thought that I would come with it as my signature, but I got quite a lot of feedback from other Americans and some older guys that for some people that might be some type of an issue,” Brauns explained. “I felt like even if it’s a small chance of that going against me, then I don’t care about the hair.”

There were few issues with what the freshly blonde lineman showed in Texas. The College Gridiron Showcase opens their annual all-star event for NFL Draft prospects with a pro free agent showcase and Brauns was one of three Europeans who were selected to participate as part of the events’ partnership with All22 The Global Scouting Network. The newly formed organization, founded by current Danube Dragons head coach and Calgary Stampeders scout Brett Morgan, is aiming to professionalize scouting in the international marketplace, serving as a kind of Global BLESTO for teams around the world.

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Fresh off a successful combine event in the Balkans this October, CGS marked the first group of All22 sponsored international athletes to be brought before American scouts. Last season, big names like former second round pick Malik McDowell earned new opportunities in the NFL after competing in this very same free agent showcase and Brauns hopes to be next, making the jump from the ELF’s Wroclaw Panthers to US professional football. For the Latvian, this was an opportunity unlike any other.

“I’ve been around a couple combines, so this is just another job interview, but the biggest difference is how many connections you can make, how many scouts are actually here,” he said. “There’s every league represented by many different teams and different parts of the league management. There’s very high value to it.”

In front of dozens of scouts from the NFL and CFL, as well as those from the upstart USFL and XFL, Brauns took part in official weigh ins, combine events and positional drills against American hopefuls. His numbers were respectable, including a 5.07 second forty yard dash, but perhaps more importantly, he passed the eye test. Brauns flashed the power and movement skills on the field that made him one of the ELF’s top defenders, but looked the part off of it as well, with more than a few scouts in attendance remarking that the Europeans looked the most physically fit of any prospect in attendance. That did not surprise Brauns in the slightest.

“We are taking this very seriously. We already, for years now, know what is the elite size and body composition to be at. We’ve been working for it, building it up over years,” he remarked. “I know what the defensive end should look like. I know what the defensive tackle should look like. We can go up and down, either way it’s not a problem. Whatever the teams need, that’s what we will do.”

Photo: Lukasz Skwiot

Now training at Chip Smith Performance Systems in Atlanta, Georgia through the offseason, Brauns will continue to build out his frame and work on his technique. He hopes to stage a pro day in the coming months, where scouts will be able to see his improvement from this event to the next. Many are already showing interest, particularly those with nascent spring football leagues, but Brauns doesn’t deny there are still hurdles to overcome.

“They obviously said they’re interested, there’s just a bigger problem for us where we are not the simple prospect because we are international,” he said. “Any of these leagues, they would need to set up a visa. For the NFL, that would not be a problem, but at the one level lower that we’re talking to right now for next steps, it is something for them to consider.”

Nevertheless, Brauns is doing all he can to make the added paperwork worthwhile for a team, just as he has since he first fell in love with the sport of football back in Latvia. From humble beginnings, he has slowly but surely carved himself into a pro prospect over the past six years.

“I wasn’t even that good, I was like 90 kilos back then. A small guy, scrawny, a little bit roaming after high school, that’s it,” he recalls. “I just took little steps. Like, I need to get bigger. I need to get faster. I need to get some experience here or there. You know, baby steps.”

Those steps have taken him to Serbia, Finland, Germany and Poland in search of new challenges and now the natural next one will be to catch a toe-hold in the North American pro game. If he has to throw out the hair dye to do it, then so be it.

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.