International players ‘excited to make dreams come true’ in CFL

SURREY, B.C. — A crew of international athletes are looking forward to their first shot at playing in the CFL, but they know they have a lot to learn first.

Defensive lineman Octavio Gonzalez is one of three Mexican players looking to crack the B.C. Lions roster this season, a journey that starts with training camp this week.

“Especially coming from another country, we’re very excited to make the dream come true,” the 27-year-old said Tuesday. “So we’re going to show what we got and work hard for it.”

The Lions picked Gonzalez seventh overall at the CFL’s first-ever draft in Mexico City in January. The club also picked up wide receivers Gerardo Alvarez and Fernando Richarte.

In April, B.C. took France’s Benjamin Plu at the league’s inaugural European player draft.

“I’m so happy to be here and I’m impatient to start the camp,” Plu said. “I trained hard before to come to do this game so I’m impatient right now.”

While France plays a style of football more similar to U.S. college sports than the CFL, the 24-year-old wide receiver got a taste of the Canadian game when he spent a year playing at McGill University in Montreal.

Some of the other international players know they’ve got a lot to learn before stepping into the CFL. Wide receivers in particular play different roles here in Canada, said Alvarez.

But the 30-year-old said he’s up to the challenge.

“Every day it’s good to learn something,” said Alvarez, who was the Liga de Futbol Americano Profesional’s top receiver in 2017.

The biggest difference between football in Canada and Mexico is speed, Gonzalez said.

“It’s faster here. But we’ve been working on that since we know we got drafted for this team. So we’re working hard for us to be at the same level as they play here,” he said.

To prepare, Gonzalez learned how CFL athletes train in various areas, from speed and biometrics to strength and resistance.

“It’s a lot of new things coming on,” he said.

Where the international athletes may fit into the B.C. Lions roster remains to be seen, but head coach DeVone Claybrooks is looking forward to assessing them at training camp in Kamloops, B.C., this week.

“They’re good athletes,” he said. “They can compete at a high level and we’re excited to see how they fit in. They all performed well and were admirable at the combine and those types of things so we’re excited to see what they bring to the table.”

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