Orlondo Steinauer and the other eight CFL head coaches have an extra roster decision to make this season.
Game-day rosters in 2019 will consist of 45 players, an increase of one from last year. That’s because for the first time ever, CFL teams will carry one global player this year and two starting in 2020.
It’s the result of commissioner Randy Ambrosie’s CFL 2.0 initiative, which is aimed at growing the game globally and offering both Canadian and international players more opportunities. Ambrosie secured partnerships with nine international football federations (Italy, Mexico, Germany, Austria, France, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland), allowing CFL teams to work out their players and conduct separate drafts of Mexican and European talent.
Global players will make their CFL regular-season debut Thursday when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats host the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Tim Hortons Field.
"I see it as a positive experience, something we’ll be able to build on," said Steinauer, in his first season as a CFL head coach with Hamilton. "I think it’s important we monitor how quickly we put them out there, put them in situations to give them and our football team the best chance.
"Obviously they’re going to have to contribute on special teams mainly in the beginning. The game is fast for them right now but that was expected. It’s the same for every football team."
Defensive lineman Valentin Gnahoua, a Frenchman, is on Hamilton’s practice roster while Mexican running back Omar Cojolum is on the suspended list. The Ticats selected Gnahoua with the first pick of the CFL’s inaugural European player draft.
German receiver Max Zimmermann is on Saskatchewan’s active roster while defensive back Javier Garcia and offensive lineman Rene Brassea, both Mexican, are on the practice roster.
Saskatchewan head coach Craig Dickenson also plans to bring the global players along slowly.
"It’s not a knock on them but they’re rookies," said Dickenson, also a rookie CFL head coach. "We’re not asking a lot of rookies to start let alone a rookie who has never been in the CFL or experienced any sort of American football."
Dickenson’s brother Dave, the head coach of the Grey Cup-champion Calgary Stampeders, gushed about the three global players — kicker Oscar Hugo Silva and receiver Andres Salgado, both from Mexico, and Finnish linebacker Roni Salonen — who were at the club’s training camp.
Salgado is on Calgary’s active roster while Mexican offensive lineman Guillermo Calderon is on the practice roster.
"I thought all three guys had their moments," Dickenson said. "I think ultimately this is a level of football they haven’t seen, but they also improved every day. Love their attitude.
"They ask great questions, they’re into the playbook."
B.C. coach DeVone Claybrooks echoed those sentiments. The Lions have Mexican receiver Gerardo Alvarez on their active roster while compatriot Fernando Richarte, another receiver, is on the practice roster.
"You’d think with English being their second language they’d be quite quiet but they really aren’t quiet at all," Claybrooks said. "They talk a lot.
"They get what we’re saying and they’ve been great football players. The best part is that they don’t look out of place."
In January, receiver Diego Jair Viamontes Cotera was the first player taken in the inaugural Liga de Futbol Americano Profesional/CFL draft by Edmonton. He’s currently on the Eskimos’ practice roster with compatriot Genaro Alfonsin Romero, a defensive back.
Maxime Rouyer, a linebacker from France who played collegiately at McGill, is on Edmonton’s active roster. The Eskimos open their season hosting the Montreal Alouettes on Friday night.
Mexican offensive lineman Diego Kuhlman is on Montreal’s active roster while compatriots Juan Tamayo, a defensive back, and Enrique Yenny, a kicker, are both on the practice roster.
"I find it pretty cool bringing guys from different countries and seeing the talent level," Montreal running back William Stanback said. "Guys from all over the place have that talent so why not try to give them an opportunity to make this club?
"I feel like it’s a great thing."
Starting quarterback Antonio Pipkin agreed.
"Football is a game that’s extremely diverse," he said. "It’s great to broaden horizons, get some guys that can play the game from all over.
"Plus, more eyes, the better."