Speed of CFL game matched by learning curve for Global players

CFL 2.0 has brought three players from Mexico and one from France into Eskimos training camp this year.

One player will earn a spot on the active roster while two players are expected to be placed on the practice roster.

“We have a lot of meetings, we have a lot of practices, but I really enjoy it,” said linebacker Maxime Rouyer, 24, who hails from Troyes, France, and was selected fourth overall by the Eskimos in the first European draft. “I know that special teams is the way to get on the team and then to play defence, so I’m working really hard on that. I was lucky to punch the ball in the second game.”

Rouyer forced a fumble recovered by long-snapper Ryan King at the Winnipeg 12-yard line that led to Sean Whyte’s 19-yard field goal for the Eskimos’ only points in their second CFL pre-season game on Friday night at Winnipeg.

He also combined with another teammate to tackle a BC kick-returner at the Lions’ three-yard line late in the first half of the first pre-season game.

Rouyer, who spent the last four U Sports seasons with McGill University in Montreal, played on some of the special teams in the first half of the first pre-season game and most of the special teams in the second half while also playing seven snaps on defence at the end of the game. In the second game, he started on all four special teams (punt, punt cover, kickoff and kickoff cover) and played seven snaps on defence.

“I really love special teams,” he said. “I knew it was going to be faster than it was at McGill, but it’s really, really fast.”

It’s not just the CFL game on the field that’s feel fast.

“Even in the meetings, we need to learn fast,” Rouyer said. “We don’t wait. Get on the train and follow everybody or you’re wasting your time, and they’re going to put you out.”

Rouyer said mistakes are quickly corrected in meetings, and then new concepts are introduced.

“Every day we add new things on defence,” he said. “We have new fronts, we add new coverage, and you have to learn fast because every day we learn during the evening and the morning after we practise what we learn so you have to know your things.”

At some point in the future, Rouyer said he will be teaching the concepts he’s been learning the last two weeks to young football players in France.

“What I’m learning here is crazy,” he said. “Everything is going fast, but they’re putting us in conditions to be successful.

“If you’re prepared when you come here, you’re going to be fine. But you have to do the work outside the field. You have to study the film, you have to learn the playbook, and that’s what I want to teach when I go back to France.”

Rouyer is hoping that time will be well down the road.

“We’re all really enjoying that new Global spot,” he said about receiving this opportunity in training camp and, hopefully, making the Eskimos roster.

While Rouyer’s had the advantage of already playing the Canadian game with McGill, the three Global players from Mexico – receiver/kick-returner Diego Viamontes, 28, defensive back Jose Alfonsin, 26, and linebacker Daniel Carrete, 28 – have faced a huge transition.

Training camps in Mexico are just two hours a day from Monday to Friday for a month, followed by an eight-game regular season plus playoffs from January until May.

“For us, it’s a new experience,” said Carrete, who suffered a knee injury early in training camp and didn’t play in either pre-season game. “Here, it is all day. We start at eight o’clock in the morning and finish every day at 9 p.m.”

The on-field practices usually finish around noon each day.

The facilities are also quite different – a 55,000-seat stadium compared to 5,000 seats and a training complex that Carrete called “amazing.”

“In Mexico, we don’t have that,” he said. “I want to stay here in Edmonton. If they don’t keep me on the roster, I don’t care. I like the city. It’s a good experience for us.”

“This opportunity has changed my life because it’s my dream,” said Alfonsin, who had 10 plays on special teams and two plays on defence in the first pre-season game and 12 special teams plays at Winnipeg.

He said the speed of the game is the biggest difference between football in Mexico and the CFL.

“I’ve learned a lot,” he said. “Every day, I learn one new thing from football, from the organization.”

Viamontes, who was selected first overall draft from the Liga de Futbol Americano Professional (LFA) because the Eskimos liked his “athleticism,” also talked about how much he was learning.

“You are here for so long that you get to see every detail of your practice,” he said, pointing out that he even watches video of the practice on an app when he’s back at the hotel.

“I was expecting all the hard work that you have to put in,” he continued. “The size of the playbook surprised me. And I wasn’t expecting the people would embrace you and make you feel comfortable with the team and the organization of the Eskimos. That’s amazing, too.”

Viamontes said he has been “waiting all my life to compete at this level and it exceeds my expectations. I mean, the level of the players, the facilities, the coaching staff is amazing, and all the people here are pretty nice to us.

“We have learned a lot in the days that we’ve been here. I feel thankful and blessed to be here.”

Viamontes was on the field for 18 plays over the two pre-season games. He fielded a punt return for a two-yard loss against BC and had a kickoff return for 15 yards against Winnipeg.

“I don’t feel so good about it,” he said about his kick returns. “I feel like I could have done more, but I’m thankful for all the things that has happened to me at this point.”

He also had one target as a receiver in the first game

“They have mottos all over the building, and that keeps you in the mindset they want,” he said. “That’s creating a culture not only in football, but you embrace the values of the organization. I like that very much.”