The CFL and back: Former BC Lions WR Benjamin Plu from France continues his football journey in Finland

When looking at Finland’s Maple League, the Seinäjoki Crocodiles make a strong case as a dark horse candidate for this year’s championship. Led by a tailback Christian Powell, the Crocodile’s strong running game has already secured their playoff spot. However, as the regular season winds down and the postseason begins, expect Seinäjoki to open up their passing game as they’ll need big plays to score against the league’s best defenses.

One constant in the Crocodiles passing game has been Frenchman Benjamin Plu. The tall receiver has made some spectacular catches this season winning jump balls and bringing in tough contested catches against the Maple League’s top defenders. If the Crocodiles are to make a run at the title, they’ll need all they can get out of the well-traveled wideout.

Before strapping up the pads in the woodlands of western Finland, Plu’s football journey began in Le Mans, a small city northwestern city in France, famous for its 24-hour car race. He quickly found American football joining a local club the Caïmans 72 du Mans as a teenager. Within a few seasons, Plu had impressed coaches enough to earn a spot on the French junior national team. The chance to represent his country gave the slender receiver more and more confidence to continue progressing in the niche sport. After studying in his hometown at Le Mans University, Plu used the growing FrenchQuebec connection to get in contact with coaches at McGill University, a powerhouse program in Montreal’s college football scene.

Benjamin Plu at Mcgill University: Photo: Mcgill Athletics

In his first year on campus, the Frenchman made the enormous jump from the lower leagues of France to Canada’s highest level of college football. Plu flashed his potential coming on strong late in the season making four catches for 75 yards and a touchdown. The strong first-year campaign set the stage for a promising career with Redmen.

“When I arrived in McGill I realized the difference between and France and Canada. I realized I was in the best position to improve my football skills. “

However, a shoulder injury sent the receiver back to Europe. After months of rehab, Plu finally felt ready to hit the field again determined to use the skills he learned playing in North America. Focused on his football development, he moved to western France joining the Thonon Black Panthers, one of the countries premier American football clubs. Plu’s hard work paid off as he helped the Black Panthers capture the 2019 National title, winning MVP of championship game in the process. However, despite his success Plu continued to battle adversity fighting with multiple injuries as well as been left off of the French National team.

Meanwhile back in Canada the CFL Global initiative began ramping up as the league announced a European Draft prior to the 2019 season, emphasizing itself as a truly global league. As scouts began to look for European talent Plu’s size and experience in Canadian football earned him an invite to Toronto’s CFL combine.

“I was really excited to go back to Canada. I really appreciate the country. Before I came to Mcgill it was always a dream for me to go to Canada. It was great to go back again. I prepared hard for the combine and felt ready after playing at a high level in France the past two seasons.”

Moving quickly at 6’3 190 lbs Plu posted the fastest shuttle drill and second fastest 3-cone drill among European players. Plu’s large frame and athleticism caught the eyes of CFL coaches, so much so the B.C Lions took a chance on the raw talent selecting him seventh overall in the 2019 European draft.

Adjusting to the world’s second-best league was no easy task. Plu had made a name for himself in Europe as a deep ball and red zone threat. Now playing among skilled American and Canadian stars the lanky Frenchmen had to learn the art of special teams to find his niche within Vancouver’s club.

“My first goal was to complete the camp and not get cut. It’s not easy for a global receiver to play in the CFL because of the special team duties. I asked the coach what I can do better and worked on it.”

Step by step, Plu worked in his craft, taking extra time outside of practice to work on open field blocking and kick coverage techniques. After months of being relegated to the practice squad, Plu had shown the coaches he could be trusted earning a spot on the Lions game day roster for the team’s final four games. After a mixed bag of football experiences, suiting up at pro-level was a special moment for Plu:

“I had a lot of bumps on the journey, I was injured often and had been cut from the French national team. I kept working to stay ready. When I dressed for my first game with the Lions it was a special feeling. I had faced up and downs and I’m still here. I was very proud.”

Plu roaming the sidelines during a BC Lions game. Photo: BC Lions

Excited to build off of the momentum of 2019 the Lion’s special teamer returned to France to prepare for a breakout second year in the CFL. Once again adversity struck as the pandemic postponed and eventually canceled the 2020 CFL season. Jumping ahead to January 2021, Plu seemed poised to return to Vancouver as the Lion’s new coaching staff extended his contract showing confidence in the global player, they knew little of.

Plu spent the spring of 2021 preparing vigorously for his return to Canada eager to earn a spot on the gameday roster once again. Yet, following a specialist-heavy 2021 Global Draft, the Lions opted to release the French receiver choosing to use their global spots for kickers and defenders.

After a year away from the game and much uncertainty around the impact of COVID-19 on the European seasons, Plu was eager to get back to doing what he loved. After watching the Finnish Maple League of AFI.tv in 2020, the former CFL receiver was impressed by Finland’s level of play. In May, he chose to take his talents to the northern country joining his teammate from Thonon, Antony Rodriguez with the Seinajoki Crocodiles.

“I saw the last season in the Maple league the level was really good. I spoke with Antony and signed with Crocodiles.”

Plu stiff arms a defender Photo: Marko Tuominiemi photography

Plu’s production has been limited this year as the Crocodiles lost their starting quarterback early in the season. Afterward, the team relied on 16-year-old Arttu Aalto before bringing in former NCAA division one quarterback Zack Greenlee, who has also been battling injuries. Despite the revolving door behind center, Plu has made the most of his chances racking up 224 yards and three touchdowns leading the team in both categories.

“I always try my best. Expect that we will have our quarterback back for the rest of the season and try to build our passing game.”

Seinäjoki’s go-to receiver is no stranger to adversity. Despite the ups and downs of his career, Plu aims to continue to play at a high level whether in Europe or Canada. As French global players Maxine Rouyer, Ansel Robo, and Valentine Ghanouah suit up for pro football in Canada this year, Plu understandably still keeps one eye on three-down football.

“My goal is to be back in the CFL for sure. I’m still waiting. I know that they already have their global players but also teams have cut some players. I speak with my agent every two weeks to check in on opportunities. If I stay in Europe, I’m open to different opportunities.”

Plu on the move. Photo: Jari Turunen

Looking at the season in Finland, Plu and Crocodiles still have all their goals in front of them as they’ve shown they can hang with the league’s best teams, playing a tight game with the first place Kuopio Steelers and posting an undefeated record at home. This Saturday they’ll travel south to the lineup against the playoff-bound Porvoo Butchers. The matchup will likely determine which of these teams will finish third and fourth in the playoff seeding. The difference is crucial as neither team likes the idea of a cross-country bus ride to first place Kuopio.

“I expect to win for sure. We have a strong passing game and run game. We worked hard in the bye week and studied a lot of videos. We are ready and will do our best to win the game.”

Expect Plu and his talented Seinäjoki teammates to make some noise as they have the athletes and mindset to shock the Maple League and make an unexpected run at the title.

Watch the Seinäjoki  Crocodiles @ Porvoo Butchers on this Saturday AFI.tv 15:30 CET

Alex is a former professional American football player who is now studying in London. His goal writing for AFI is to stay involved with the game that has given him so much. Alex enjoys covering leagues and players and sharing different football