Wroclaw Panthers OL Sven Breidenbach spending time wisely in Poland while clock ticks on CFL dream

Offensive lineman are a unique breed of athlete, often a mess of contradiction. Gifted with unique size, they must also defy logic with their athleticism. They must be patient and yet aggressive. Confident, but never the center of attention. Both a protector of those behind them and the destructor of those across from them. It has often been said that there is only ever a finite number of humans alive who even possess the base level attributes to play the position.

Sven Breidenbach is one of those humans.

The hulking German may be rough around the edges but he’s every bit the prototype for a successful offensive tackle. Long and lean for his size, Breidenbach has sculpted himself into exactly the physical specimen you might find drawn in diagram form in an offensive line handbook. It didn’t come naturally, but the native of Cologne quickly found that a dedication to training and physical fitness could elevate him above the competition.

“I was never a gifted athlete, I always had to work for it,” admits Breidenbach. “I recognized pretty fast that I would have to do more than other guys and at the end of the day, it’s paid off.”

Sven Briedenbach was one of only two players selected from 50+ during the CFL Combine in Germany Photo: CFL.ca

You can see the dedication by simply scrolling through the Breidenbach’s daily stories on Instagram, a near constant stream of gym sessions, field training and good food. It could easily be called the holy trinity of offensive line play and the results have attracted plenty of attention. After the CFL Global Combine in Germany, perhaps the most highly anticipated and talent rich event on their international circuit, Breidenbach was one of just two players given an automatic invitation the the CFL’s National Combine in Toronto. It was the first and most important step to being drafted by a Canadian team but then disaster struck. Mere weeks before Breidenbach was slated to depart for his football future, the novel coronavirus began to wreak havoc across Europe and North America. The event was canceled and months later so too was the CFL season. It left the tackle in a difficult position on many levels.

“It’s been rough to be honest. I had a full-time job and I quit so I could just work part-time as a security guard and train for the draft with a personal trainer. When it got canceled, all of a sudden I’ve got to pay my trainer, pay my rent and find something to do,” Breidenbach explains. “Before, the plan was to go to the draft, perform well and get selected by a team so I could be in Canada. Now I’m sitting at home and don’t know what’s going to happen.”

It’s been a time of great uncertainty for people of every profession and nationality. Global football players like Breidenbach are no different. There is an old saying that people treat offensive linemen like mushrooms, feeding them manure and keeping them in the dark until something good grows. Breidenbach wishes the CFL wouldn’t take it quite so literally with his development.

“No one is texting us. No one is telling us what is going on. The last email was probably a month ago. We are just waiting for any information,” he says of the group of Global players eligible for CFL selection. “Once I get back to Germany, I’m going to keep working out and do whatever I can to stay ready. But it’s still very difficult to not know what’s going on. You’ve got to plan to be able to pay your bills.”

Sven Breidenbach #57 keeping a watchful eye on Wroclaw QB Bartosz Dziedzic Photo: BK-Foto Sportbilder

That said, he certainly doesn’t dismiss the massive logistical and financial challenges facing the league that forced them to cancel the 2020 season. It’s the same problem being faced by football leagues all over the world and it has affected Breidenbach twice over. After eight straight years with the Cologne Crocodiles, the German is spending this year in Poland after the GFL also canceled their season. While he felt on the cusp of achieving his professional football dreams just mere months ago, everything now seems tantalizingly out of reach.

“The CFL felt so close and now it seems so far away again,” he marvels.

While every Global prospect is on the same emotional rollercoaster, it’s just a little bit more stressful for Breidenbach. He only started playing football at 22 and has the distinction of being the oldest Global prospect at 31 years of age. By that age, many players are retired from the sportĀ  but Breidenbach believes there is plenty of time left on his ticking clock.

“It’s tough to compare my age to that of an American player. He started playing when he was six or seven and I’ve only been playing for nine years,” he says. “I’m fresh. I want to play football until I’m at least 37. I just turned 31 but I can still compare to guys in their early twenties.”

Cologne Crocodiles offensive lineman Sven Breidenbach Photo: Nadine Bartz

That has only been proven by his stellar performance with the Wroclaw Panthers this year. While Poland wasn’t the football destination he imagined when 2020 began, it’s been more than just a pleasant surprise. As the anchor for one of Europe’s best offensive lines, Breidenbach is part of a powerhouse undefeated team that has run roughshod over every opponent in their path.

“To be honest, when I came to Poland, I didn’t expect the guys to be this good,” he says of his league leading unit. “Those guys just want to work and they want to dominate. I’ve never seen that before. We had a 50-0 lead and they were still hungry for more points. Normally with a score like that you take your foot off the gas but these guys are just different.”

It’s the product of a well-run organization that has blown Breidenbach away.

“I never thought I would be coming to such a great organization. Even teams in Germany could learn something from how it’s run here,” he states without hesitation. “If they were allowed as many imports as German teams, they have the talent to compete in the GFL.”

Playing in Poland has also provided him with the opportunity to test his mettle against long-time friend and current roommate Thiadric Hansen. The crown jewel of the CFL’s Global initiative thus far and a 2019 Grey Cup champion with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Hansen helped train Breidenbach for the CFL Combine and joined him in Wroclaw after the CFL cancelled its season. Iron sharpens iron and the two test each other constantly in one-on-ones, defensive end versus left tackle.

“It’s been perfect to have him over here with me. We can work out together and I get to go up against him everyday in practice,” Breidenbach says of their relationship. “That’s the best thing for me as a player because, no offense to the Polish guys, its a little bit different going up against him than the Polish players.”

Cologne Crocodiles OL Sven Breidenbach #56 leading his team onto the field Photo: 66 Photography

With two legitimate European stars on their team, the Panthers are heavily favored to take home the Polish championship. They easily handled the number two seed Bialystok Lowlanders two weeks ago in the regular season finale and are set to face an injury ravaged Bydgoszcz Archers in the semi-final, a team they eviscerated 58-0 in their last meeting. Breidenbach stresses the need to remain focused on the task at hand and not get cocky, but he knows exactly why he came to Wroclaw.

“I came here to win a championship. If somebody says they came here to not win, they’re lying,” Breidenbach asserts. “Every football player wants to win a championship and I don’t care if it’s in Poland, Russia or wherever.”

There is perhaps no situation better to accomplish that right now than with the loaded Panthers. As for the future, despite endless waiting and uncertainty, Breidenbach remains optimistic.

“I know that time is working against me but I’m in the best shape of my life right now. I’m strong, I’m working out like hell and right now I can compete with anyone in Europe. Why not Canada too?,” he asks rhetorically, confident in his own answer. “I saw Thiadric develop his game so much last year and I would like to see that happen to me. With the right coaching and football as my full-time job, I feel like my game could go to another level.”

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but they never said anything about offensive linemen.

Watch the game live here. Polish Championship Game: Bialystok Lowlanders v. Wroclaw Panthers, Saturday, November 14, 15:30 CET (09:30 ET, 9:30 am)

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.