Germany’s Max Zimmermann feeling at home in Saskatchewan Roughriders’ training camp

SASKATOON — Max Zimmermann is exerting maximum effort into landing a job with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Zimmermann is one of four global players on the Riders’ roster as part of the CFL’s initiative to expand the league’s reach beyond Canada’s borders.

The 25-year-old German receiver has made an impression with his toughness, work ethic and ability to catch the ball.

“If you didn’t know that he was a global player, you would probably think he was a Canadian receiver that we had drafted,” Riders receivers coach Travis Moore said.  “He brings it to the field and he loves to compete. He catches the ball well and he understands what he’s doing. He’s a fighter.”

Zimmermann was the sixth overall selection by the Riders in the inaugural European draft. He quit his full-time job as a teacher to focus on his dream of playing in the CFL.

He may have helped his cause with a diving 20-yard touchdown catch during Saturday’s scrimmage at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. The touchdown generated quite the reaction among his friends and teammates in his hometown of Berlin.

“I don’t know if they knew it was just a mock game, but they saw it on Instagram that I scored a touchdown and everyone went crazy,” Zimmermann said after Monday’s practice at Griffiths Stadium.

“My social media was pretty fired up. Everyone was pretty happy and me, too. It was just a mock game, but it was just a chance to get a sense of what a game feels like. I’m still happy about it.”

The CFL’s global initiative isn’t limited to Europe. CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie worked out a partnership with Mexico’s Liga de Futbol Americano Profesional, which included a draft of Mexican players.

Offensive lineman Rene Brassea, receiver Sebastien Olvera and defensive back Javier Garcia were all picked by the Riders in the Mexican draft.

Garcia scored Saturday on an interception return after stepping in front of an Isaac Harker pass.

“That demonstrates that as global players we can compete,” Brassea said. “(The two touchdowns) were good plays that got a lot of attention from the coaches and the fans. It shows that we can make plays too.”

Zimmermann kept Saturday’s touchdown in perspective, but it was satisfying to score during the scrimmage.

“I have high expectations for myself,” he said. “Of course, you want to be satisfied with every little thing that you do. At the end, I want to score those touchdowns in a game where there are real points. It’s a big step mentally for me. It’s not like I’m satisfied. It’s just not the main goal.”

The global prospects haven’t looked out of place during training camp, which is an indication that adding players from Mexico and Europe wasn’t as far-fetched as it seemed when Ambrosie introduced the concept.

“I always knew that the CFL was a professional league,” Zimmermann said. “It’s just great that they are really interested and they want to expand the league. They really want us here and they are letting us compete with the guys.”

Zimmermann feels that he has gained from the experience of being part of a CFL training camp.

“Training camp is not going to make you faster or stronger,” Zimmermann said. “Mentally you learn a lot about yourself and I’m a better player. I’m tougher and I know more about the game. My knowledge of football is 10 times more than before training camp started.”

There is more to Ambrosie’s plans than having global players at CFL training camps.

Under the new collective-bargaining agreement, there will apparently be one spot for a global player on each CFL roster in 2019 and two in 2020. How that works in terms of the ratio is still being sorted out.

However, it appears that the players have welcomed the global players.

“They all make me feel so comfortable,” Zimmermann said. “They understand there is a language barrier, which makes for some lighthearted times. Everyone is helping me out from the coaches to the players to the training staff. I’m feeling very good here.”

Read the original story in the Regina Leader-Post by Murray McCormick

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