It’s a sunny morning in Winnipeg, 10 days into Blue Bombers training camp, and Thiadric Hansen takes a long deep breath, surveys his environment and then grins.
“It’s just crazy, absolutely crazy, how things work out sometimes,” began the 26-year-old native of Flensburg, Germany. “This is all so unreal to me. I think about all the stuff they do here to take care of you. You should see the big locker room here and how the staff treats you, even washing your stuff and everything. They take care of you. It’s such a professional feeling.”
A little perspective is in order here to appreciate where Hansen is coming from in all this. Consider that just a few months ago, he was driving the children of the Kuwaiti ambassador to Germany to and from school. Football, he thought, was over for him.
“I was thinking about not playing any more last year, but my friend asked me to play for one more,” Hansen explained. “I agreed and played. But in Germany it’s not really worth it. In the GFL (German Football League) you are paid about 450 Euro per month ($680 CDN) for six months. They do help you with housing sometimes and help you find a job, but I needed to focus on myself and get a job because I wanted to move on in life and have a family and stuff.
“Also, football is hard on your body and I thought if it didn’t play well I had to find something else.”
And then the phone rang with an offer that could change his life.
The Canadian Football League is in the infancy of its 2.0 initiative, with the goal of growing the game outside of this country. It led to the combine and draft in Mexico this winter and was followed up with European players being invited to the national combine for Canadian college prospects in advance of the CFL Draft this month. In a separate ‘Global’ players draft, the Bombers selected Hansen – a 6-2, 240-pound linebacker who last played for the Potsdam Royals in the GFL – second overall.
So, to say the last few weeks have been a whirlwind for Hansen would be a massive understatement. Actually, this whole possibly of playing pro football career is enough to make Hansen’s head spin.
He wasn’t into soccer growing up and played a little basketball – ‘but I wasn’t very good’ – when he got his introduction to North American football. He had a friend who had built one of the first youth teams in Flensburg and one day at a birthday party, was just messing around in his buddy’s backyard.
“He asked me then to come out to practise to try it out,” Hansen recalled, “and I got hooked right away. I loved it.”
An old story that showcases the evidence of that love…
While living in Flensburg, Hansen was trying to crack the lineup of a team called the Baltic Hurricanes in Kiel, about an hour train ride north. GFL practices are in the evening, to allow players to hold regular jobs.
“And sometimes when the practice went long I missed the last train to Flensburg, so I needed to stay at the train station until 5:30 in the morning when I took the train home and then went straight to school. I just wanted so much to make the team.”
And a newer story that showcases the evidence of his love for the game, plus his dedication…
Bombers GM Kyle Walters and head coach Mike O’Shea are in a suite at IG Field the other day having lunch and staring out at the lone player on the turf, working on his craft. It was Hansen, fine-tuning a small technical aspect to his technique he had been taught the day before.
“What everyone noticed right away, even the players, is he’s very strong and powerful,” said O’Shea. “Strong upper-body and core. When you’re doing the compete drills and you’re lining up against Shayne Gauthier or Mike Miller, guys that are strong stout special teamers, his use of his hands and his power is very evident.
“The other thing that is very important is he’s very coachable. He speaks football, he understands the game. The speed of the game is different from what he’s used to playing, as you’d expect, but if you come out he’ll be doing that drill on his own time before practice or after to be better and the next practice you’ll see it applied in practice. That’s awesome to be around.”
“I’m learning, learning, learning, learning,” added Hansen. “That’s my thing right now. I need to learn so much. Not just the playbook, but technique. I’m getting better, but as soon as you think you’re getting better they add more plays and you just keep going. There’s never been a point where I’ve thought, ‘OK, now I’m good.’ It keeps getting harder and harder. But I’m a hard worker and I want to learn.”