University of Regina Rams benefit from tapping into Mexican football market

By Murray McCormick, Regina Leader-Post

The University of Regina Rams are ahead of the Canadian Football League when it comes to actually having Mexican players on their roster.

Kicker Aldo Galvan and offensive lineman Steven Zambrano spent the 2018 Canada West football season with the Rams. Galvan handled placekicks and punts while Zambrano was redshirted.

Galvan and Zambrano made their decisions to head north before talk surfaced of the CFL’s intent to grow the game in Mexico.

On Nov. 23, CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie signed a non-binding letter of agreement with the Liga de Fútbol Americano Profesional (LFA) to work on several projects.

The partnership includes the possibility of CFL games being played in Mexico in 2020 and a combine being held there in January to help identify players who could be signed as free agents and attend CFL training camps in May.

The concept of adding one or even two Mexican players to CFL rosters has been floated for the 2019 season, along with the possibility of sending Canadian players to Mexico for further development after the college careers.

“In order to grow the game, you have to try new things,” said Rams head coach Steve Bryce. “The CFL, with some of the issues they are having with attendance in some places like Toronto, you have to go outside the box and expand your brand a little bit. That’s what they are dealing with. They are trying to find new avenues and new wrinkles.”

Bryce is familiar with the calibre of Mexican football players after serving as the head coach of the Etiwanda High School Eagles in Rancho Cucamonga, Cal., for seven seasons.

“I had a lot of Mexican players with dual citizenships and they were very good,” Bryce said. “There is no shortage of talent down there.”

Bryce joked that he wished the CFL hadn’t expressed an interest in Mexican football.

“At first I didn’t want it to get out there too much because there are some really good players down there and we’re trying to tap a source that no one else knew about,” Bryce said with a chuckle. “I’m still talking to a couple of other players down there for recruiting. There are some very good football players in Mexico.”

Galvan and Zambrano are among those good players. They both played at the high school level in their home towns. Galvan hails from Mexico City and Zambrano from Monterrey.

They were also members of Team Mexico at the 2018 International Federation of American Football (IFAF) under-19 world championship in Mexico City.

Team Mexico thumped Team USA 33-7 to advance to the gold-medal final against Team Canada, which won 13-7.

“(Beating the United States) was a big win for us because we were so underrated,” Galvan said.

Galvan, 19, is no stranger to American-style football. He played the game for five seasons before joining the Rams.

“My dad played before and I wanted to feel what he felt,” Galvan said.

Galvan settled on the Rams after contacting schools in Canada and the United States. It turned out the Rams were in need of a kicker and Bryce was impressed after watching a video of Galvan kicking.

“I had him do some kicking when he visited (Regina) and we could tell in five minutes that he was head and shoulders the best guy available,” Bryce said. “He had five-second hang time on punts and he even hit a couple of 60-yard field goals. We knew that he was somebody that we wanted.”

Galvan rewarded Bryce’s trust by connecting on 17 of 24 field-goal attempts, in addition to averaging 35.4 yards per punt and 57.0 yards per kickoffs. Galvan also led the Rams in scoring with 73 points.

“The distance on the kickoffs is longer,” Galvan said about his first experience with Canadian football. “Still, it was a good season for me with some ups and downs. I did well for my first season of Canadian football.”

The transition to the Canadian game has been more challenging for the 18-year-old Zambrano, who couldn’t speak English before joining the Rams.

“We’re still working on the English language issues and getting through an ESL program so we can get him qualified,” Bryce said. “Academically, he’s all good and he could enrol in our engineering program. We just need to make sure we don’t stick him in classes like that until we’re sure that he can hang with the language barrier.”

Zambrano (6-foot-4 and 306 pounds) has played organized football for six seasons and was immediately drawn to playing along the offensive line.

“I like the speed on the field and I how need to protect the quarterback,” Zambrano said. “I like the responsibility of having to protect one guy.”

Galvan views playing with the Rams as part of becoming a professional.

“I had heard of the CFL before and it was the reason why I came here, because it’s the same process as in the United States,” Galvan said. “You play your college career and you can be drafted into the CFL. In a few years, I might be a famous kicker.”

Galvan said that soccer remains the top sport in Mexico, but added that football is making inroads. That’s why he supports Ambrosie’s proposals.

“It’s good for the LFA, which is growing,” Galvan said. “There is a lot of talent in Mexico so I’m happy that the CFL signed an agreement with the LFA.”

The LFA is a semi-professional spring league that was established in 2016 with four teams. It expanded to six squads in 2017 and will have eight in 2019.

The league draws approximately 4,000 to 5,000 fans for each game. The exception is the Mexico Bowl, which attracts 20,000 spectators.

“The LFA is not big like the NFL, but in a couple of years it could become even more well-known,” Galvan said.

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

[email protected]

Reposted by permission

American Football International is your source for news and updates about American Football outside the United States!