Third overall pick Karlis Brauns from Latvia ready for next step in BC

What began as a curiosity for Karlis Brauns quickly turned into a passion.

Born in Latvia, the big defensive end has travelled across Europe pursing a professional football career. Being selected third overall by the BC Lions in the CFL Global Draft is another step on the journey of turning his dream into a reality.

“I’m very excited right now,” said Brauns, who enjoyed an all-star season with the Wroclaw Panthers, a Polish team in the European League of Football. “This is where it actually starts for me because this is what I would say is finally a chance to play serious football.

“Getting drafted is all very well and very exciting. But this is where the real work really begins. I’m looking forward to it.”

The six-foot-four, 270-pound Brauns turned heads when he showed up at the CFL Combine presented by New Era with bright pink hair. But what really caught the attention of the Lions’ coaching staff was Brauns bench pressing 225 pounds 29 times and his 4.97 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

» View: 2022 CFL Global Draft Tracker
» Stats: 2022 CFL Global Combine

“We felt by drafting him he can come in and complement the current group we have, come to training camp and see what he’s all about,” said Neil McEvoy, BC’s director of football operations and co-general manager.

Brauns won the Finnish Football championship playing with the Kupio Steelers. He’s played for teams in Serbia and Germany. His raw talent will be tested at the Lions training camp when he faces CFL veterans and young players fresh out of Canadian and U.S. universities.

“I’m not blind to the fact that it’s going to be completely different over here,” he said. “Iron sharpens iron. It’s a better opportunity.”

McEvoy believes Brauns can cope with the learning curve.

“He’s really strong,” said McEvoy. “He has traits that professional athletes have, he has testing numbers that professional athletes have. Now it’s up to him to come to training camp and show us he deserves to be on the field when we’re playing. That’s no different than any other American or Canadian or Global player we bring in. They’ve got to come to camp and compete for a spot just like all professional athletes have to.”

The Montreal Alouettes selected Nigerian-born defensive lineman Kingsley Jonathan first overall in the Global Draft. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats took Australian punter Bailey Flint with the second selection before BC took Brauns.

The Lions also selected two German players, defensive back Marcel Dabo 16th overall and fullback John Levi-Kruse 21st.

A defence that was in the bottom third of the league in many categories contributed to BC finishing 5-9 last year and missing the playoffs. Over the winter the Lions turned to free agency to add defensive backs Loucheiz Purifoy and Delvin Breaux, plus defensive linemen David Menard and Mathieu Betts.

Growing up, Brauns rowed and boxed, played hockey and soccer. Then one day he saw an advertisement for a local “backyard level” football team looking for players.

“I went for a couple of practices,” he said. “Since we had the first scrimmage I instantly fell in love. I realized there’s nothing like it that I had ever tried. “Since then it has become my one true love. Since I started playing football I can’t look back.”

An early inspiration for Brauns was J.J. Watt, the three-time NFL defensive player of the year.

“I can’t compare with him,” he said. “There are some things he does I wouldn’t want to do.”

Brauns has also sought advice from Thiadric Hansen, the German-born Global player who was part of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers back-to-back Grey Cup championships.

“I’ve been trying to get advantages as much as I can,” he said.


Brauns is excited about the coaching he will receive with the Lions.

“In Europe it is rare a coach can teach techniques that are up to date,” he said. “It’s a craft for us, doing it at the highest level. For me it’s an opportunity to learn from the best teachers, the best coaches.”

The pink hair that made Brauns standout at the combine has been replaced by his natural blond.

“It takes some maintenance,” he laughed. “There were no public appearances so it went away, but it will be coming back.”

He hasn’t ruled out a head of Lion orange for training camp.

“That’s not a terrible idea.”

His hair colour may change but Brauns desire to play football remains solid.

“I’ve sacrificed pretty much anything a person can sacrifice,” he said. “Relationships, money, other opportunities, everything I just left. If I had an opportunity, I would do it all over again. I just love playing football.”

When the Lions coaching staff begin evaluating all the tangibles different players bring to the team, some intangibles could play in Brauns favour.

“Football is a tough sport,” said McEvoy. “You’ve got to do it because you love it. If you’re not in love with the sport, you will get locked out really quick. “Just speaking to him, he’s a guy that I sense wants to play at the highest level. Right now the highest level for him is the BC Lions. We’re going to give him the opportunity to compete for a spot.”

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