Andrew Harris (33) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the game against the Calgary Stampeders at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, MB. Thursday, July 21, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)
It might have been Cal Murphy who coined the phrase first, or maybe it dates as far back as the days of Frank Clair and Bud Grant.
In any case – “Canadians are like gold, Americans silver” – has long been a commandment in the Canadian Football League when it comes to piecing together a roster.
It’s a mantra certainly meant as no slight to the many great Americans who have ventured north to star in this quirky three-down league.
But when the rules dictate that almost half a roster be comprised of homegrowns – the 44-man lineup includes three quarterbacks, 21 Canadians and 20 imports – teams that don’t have a foundation of players from the true north strong and free are doomed to fail.
Winnipeg Blue Bomber fans have seen both ends of this spectrum, from the championship teams of the Glory Years of 1958-62 or the successes in the 1980s/early 1990s to the troubles that plagued this franchise before the current regime took control.
This Sunday’s CFL Draft puts the importance of Canadian talent in the spotlight once again. Now, while the draft isn’t the be-all and end-all in stocking the cupboards with Canadians – free agency and trades are still huge methods of landing help – franchises that whiff on their picks are often spectators in late November.
It’s simply a matter of supply and demand, after all. American universities pump out thousands of prospects each year. In Canada, just 27 schools participate in U Sports football. And while more Canadian players are heading to the NCAA to play and the CFL has adopted a more liberal approach to which players qualify as Canadians – O-line prospect Dariusz Bladek, for example, had never been to Canada until March’s national combine, but qualifies because his mother is Canadian – finding and developing good talent from this country is still a massive undertaking.
The Bombers have nailed their last three drafts, with 13 of 20 selections currently on the roster, including starting center Matthias Goossen, guard Sukh Chungh and safety Taylor Loffler. It’s all been part of a roster makeover, particularly with the Canadian talent, that GM Kyle Walters & Co. have undertaken since being handed the keys to the football ops department.
Consider this: only one Canadian – defensive tackle Jake Thomas – remains from the group that finished up the 2013 season. Granted, every CFL team undergoes significant turnover from year to year, but that’s a telling fact that might best represent the Bombers’ rebuild.
With all that in mind and with the Bombers holding seven selections – including the first, sixth, 15th and 23rd overall picks – in Sunday’s draft, bluebombers.com takes a look at the current crop of Canadians and how they were acquired…
THE BLUE BOMBER CANADIANS
RB Andrew Harris
Acquired: Signed as a free agent on Feb. 9, 2016 after six years (102 games) with B.C. Lions.
411 on Harris: He was everything and then some in his first year with his hometown Bombers, finishing with 974 rushing yards and leading all CFL running backs with 67 catches for another 631 yards. He’s 30 now, but his tread is showing no signs of wear and tear.
C Matthias Goossen
Acquired: 2014 Draft; 1st round (2nd overall)
411 on Goossen: Is now locked in as the Bombers centre and, at 24, could have another 10 years in the trenches anchoring the O-line.
G Sukh Chungh
Acquired: 2015 Draft; 1st round (2nd overall)
411 on Chungh: Has started from the first moment he stepped on the field for the Bombers two years ago. Brings a healthy dose of nasty up front.
WR Julian Feoli-Gudino
Acquired: Signed as a free agent on Jan. 21, 2014 after two years (21 games) with Toronto
411 on Feoli-Gudiono: Pencilled in as the starter at wide-side receiver with the departure of Rory Kohlert. Best season was 2015 when he had 27 catches for 266 yards.
DE Jamaal Westerman
Acquired: Signed as a free agent on May 7, 2015 after playing 58 games down south in NFL stints with the New York Jets, Arizona Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, Buffalo Bills, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns.
411 on Westerman: Consistent defender with 25 sacks in last two years and a leader in the room.
S Taylor Loffler
Acquired: 2016 Draft; 3rd round (19th overall)
411 on Loffler: Injury concerns scared teams away at last year’s draft, making him a third-round steal for the Bombers. A CFL All-Star as a rookie.
DT Jake Thomas
Acquired: 2012 Draft; 4th round (29th overall)
411 on Thomas: Keith Shologan’s exit means Thomas, who took a lot of snaps last year, would be the front-runner to grab a starting gig along the D-line.
OL Patrick Neufeld
Acquired: Trade with Saskatchewan on Oct. 10, 2013 along with a 4th round pick in 2015 CFL Draft (FB Chris Normand) for DE Alex Hall and a 2nd round pick in the 2014 CFL Draft (DL Dylan Ainsworth).
411 on Neufeld: Technically sound tackle/guard who gives the club options to change the ratio on the O-line if he could stay healthy.
DE Trent Corney
Acquired: 2016 Draft; 2nd round (9th overall)
411 on Corney: Freakish athlete who appeared in 16 games last year as a rookie and had two sacks.
OL Michael Couture
Acquired: 2016 Draft; 2nd round (10th overall)
411 on Couture: Versatile prospect who has played centre, guard and tackle at the college level. He played in all 18 games as a rookie.
FB Chris Normand
Acquired: 2015 Draft; 4th round (33rd overall)
411 on Normand: A solid athlete who continues to morph into a versatile fullback.
FB Mike Miller
Acquired: Signed as a free agent on March 3, 2017 after six seasons (104 games) with the Edmnton Eskimos.
411 on Miller: Special teams demon. One of those consistent foot soldiers who steps up on kick cover/kick return units. Led the CFL in special teams tackles last year.
LB Thomas Miles
Acquired: Signed as a free agent on March 4, 2017 after three years (40 games) with the Toronto Argonauts
411 on Miles: Churchill High school/University of Manitoba product returns home. Was a spot starter with the Argos who, like Miller, bolsters the special teams units.
DB Brendan Morgan
Acquired: 2015 Draft; 2nd round (15th overall)
411 on Morgan: Missed the last seven games in ’16 with an injury. Began his college career as a running back before converting to defence.
LB Garrett Waggoner
Acquired: 2015 Supplemental Draft (forfeited 2016 first-round selection)
411 on Waggoner: Another solid foot soldier who finished second on the club in special teams tackles with 14.
LB Sam Hurl
Acquired: Signed as a free agent on Feb. 11, 2015 after three seasons (42 games) in Saskatchewan.
411 on Hurl: Ratio change means his days as a starter are likely over. But he’s a good fit in the room and solid on specials.
LB Jesse Briggs
Acquired: 2014 Draft; 2nd round (17th overall)
411 on Briggs: Has yet to miss a game in three years. Another special teams ace.
WR Matt Coates
Acquired: Signed as a free agent on Feb. 17, 2017 after three years (34 games) with Hamilton.
411 on Coates: Intriguing free agent addition this winter. Limited reps in Hamilton, but the QBs there loved his work ethic. Will be in the fight for the starting Canadian receiver gig.
LB Shayne Gauthier
Acquired: 2016 Draft; 4th round (28th overall)
411 on Gauthier: Appeared in nine games last year after spending a chunk of the year on the injured list. Another in the collection of linebackers who get it done on special-teams.
DB Derek Jones
Acquired: 2014 Draft; 3rd round (29th overall)
411 on Jones: Superb special teams guy who was drafted as a cornerback who may push to become a starter. Taylor Loffler’s emergence as the starting safety sidetracked that idea.
LS Chad Rempel
Acquired: Signed as a free agent on May 30, 2015 after originally selected by Edmonton in 2004 and playing 10 years in the CFL with Winnipeg (9 games in 2005), Toronto (99 games), Hamilton (11 games) and Saskatchewan (6 games).
411 on Rempel: Came into the CFL as a legit receiving prospect. Turned himself into a long-snapper and is the best in the league. Period.
WR Addison Richards
Acquired: 2015 Draft: 2nd round (11th overall)
411 on Richards: He’s big at 6-4, 220, but has been cursed with the injury bug. Big season coming up. Patience may be a virtue, but management wants to see some results ASAP.
DB Justin Warden
Acquired: 2015 Draft; 6th round (46th overall)
411 on Warden: Another in the collection of defenders who contribute on specials.
DT Rupert Butcher
Acquired: 2016 Draft; 6th round (46th overall)
411 on Butcher: Massive dude at 6-5, 320. Attended training camp last year, returned to Western and was named a U Sports All-Canadian.
OL Zach Intzandt
Acquired: 2016 Draft; 5th round (37th overall)
411 on Intzandt: Same story as Butcher. Attended camp and opted to return to McMaster. Good call: was named a U Sports All-Canadian at guard.
FB John Rush
Acquired: Released in training camp last year; re-signed as a free agent on December 16th, 2016
411 on Rush: The Bombers love this guy’s intangibles and have asked him to switch from linebacker – where they are stacked with Canadians – to fullback. Former Presidents’ Trophy winner as the top defensive player in Canadian college football.
LB Frank Renaud
Acquired: 2016 Draft; 6th round (63rd overall)
411 on Renaud: Missed the 2015 season due to injury, but was selected by the Bombers last year because of the work he had done previously at Windsor. Led the Lancers in tackles; tied for fourth in the OUA.
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