Sweden’s William James took different path to CFL Combine

When Swedish defensive back William James, who was selected this past weekend to attend the CFL Combine in Toronto on March 24, first received an invitation to take part in the Swedish Combine, he was about as far away from his home country as he could be.

The call reached him less than a month ago on a stud farm outside of Melbourne, Australia, where he was exercising elite racehorses. And he had not been playing football but had spent the season playing rugby for the Manly Marlins.

In other words, football was not uppermost on his mind. Needless to say, he has had a change of heart.

“I had left for Australia in December 2018 after playing in Germany with the Dresden Monarchs. I spent the season playing rugby with the Marlins and gotten a job working with horses. Football seemed to be in the past for me. That has definitely changed now.”

Photo: Jonas Domfors

During the combine held this past weekend an hour and a half south of Stockholm, James caught the attention of CFL Director of International Scouting Greg Quick and the rest of the CFL crew during the physical testing. The University of North Dakota product stood out, not necessarily with blazing speed but a good all-round showing. Although James’s times were, for him, subpar (he ran a 4.87 40), he benched 225 pounds 16 times and showed an explosion that impressed the scouts. His experience and college playing background were also apparent.

“One of the things that caught our interest was his demeanor,” said Quick. “He was very focused the entire time. His consistency throughout the testing was also apparent. He has the skills to translate to special teams which is so important in the CFL.”

Also, his age was important according to Quick:

“It would be tough to throw a young, raw talent into training camp with a CFL head coach who might tear their head off suddenly. With William’s age and experience, he will be better able to handle that.”

James had only found out about the combine about a month ago and had actually considered not attending. A good friend and former teammate, and ironically one of the two candidates picked from the Finnish Combine the day before, Micky Kyei, convinced him to do it.

“I was actually thinking about winding up my football career but in the end I realized this was a huge opportunity. And Micky, who I played with in Germany for three years, had asked me to set up a training program for him. So it seemed like someone was telling me something.”

James (5’11”, 195 lb), whose father is from Great Britain and mother is Swedish, played for his club team in Sweden before deciding he wanted to give college football a try in the United States. He sent out letters to schools and North Dakota allowed him to walk on. After two years he had earned a scholarship. James, who finished his career with the Fighting Hawks with a total of 103 tackles, started at safety off and on the final two years of his career finally finding a more permanent spot on the team in his senior season.

Photo: Manly Mariners

He played in the top German league for the Dresden Monarchs before heading to Australia and from 2016 to 2018 amassed a total of 313 tackles. For a man who was looking at career alternatives, his selection to attend the CFL Combine in Toronto was a life changer.

“I had been thinking of giving up football and was planning on a career as a personal trainer after finishing up in Australia. This changes everything.”

So James, who figures that he has spent a total of seven months in the past eight years living in his home country of Sweden now has nine weeks to prepare for the next major adventure in his life.

Roger Kelly is an editor and a writer for AFI. A former PR Director the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League for 7 years, he now lives in Sweden writing about and scouting American Football throughout the world.