CFL viable option for FCS players

By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Perhaps you saw Kroy Biermann's highlight- reel return of an interception for a touchdown for the Atlanta Falcons this past Sunday. Or Marc Mariani's pivotal kickoff return late in the Tennessee Titans' win over the Dallas Cowboys.

Former players from the Football Championship Subdivision - like Biermann and Mariani from the University of Montana - face long odds to make an NFL team, let alone have game-changing impact.

But their careers don't have to end after college.

The Canadian Football League offers a strong alternative for U.S. college players to continue playing as professionals. It's a particularly strong landing spot for FCS players who don't have the fanfare of players coming out of major college programs like Alabama, Florida, Ohio State and Southern California.

Edmonton Eskimos QB Ricky Ray is in his eighth CFL season out of Sacramento State.
There are 79 former players from 47 FCS schools on the rosters of the eight CFL teams. All but one of the FCS' 14 conferences are represented - the Northeast Conference - north of the border.

It certainly helps U.S. college players to have Canadian heritage and it doesn't hurt if their school is somewhat close to the Canadian border. For example, the University of Massachusetts has an FCS-best six players in the CFL, followed by the University of the New Hampshire with five, which gives CAA Football 11 of its 16 players.

The Big Sky Conference, whose traditionally strong programs are in Montana, Utah and Washington, has 15 players from seven of its nine schools, including the just-added Matt Nichols, a record-setting quarterback at Eastern Washington, by the Edmonton Eskimos.

"Over the years, I've had a number of players play up in the CFL, and it's always been a good experience for 'em," said Weber State coach Ron McBride, who currently has offensive linemen Dimitri Tsoumpas and Zac Carlson with the Calgary Stampeders, and defensive back Bo Smith with the Hamilton Tiger- Cats. "They've played up there and have had careers up there. To me, it's a great deal. And we have a good relationship with the coaches up there and their personnel directors. It's been a real positive for us."

Last year, two of the players who earned All-CFL honors were products of FCS programs, BC Lions defensive tackle Keron Williams, who played for UMass, and Hamilton Tiger-Cats linebacker Jamall Johnson, who played at Northwestern State of the Southland Conference.

This season, four quarterbacks among the Top 10 in passing yardage are former FCS players: No. 2 Kevin Glenn (Illinois State) of Hamilton; No. 5 Ricky Ray (Sacramento State) of Edmonton; No. 8 Casey Printers (Florida A&M), who was released on Wednesday by the BC Lions; and No. 9 Travis Lulay (Montana State), who has become BC's starter. Ray is the most accomplished of the quartet, having thrown for 35,550 yards and 184 touchdowns in eight CFL seasons.

While some CFL players dream of parlaying CFL success into opportunities with the NFL, others find a terrific niche north of the border. Either way, the CFL offers a tremendous opportunity to them.

"They have had a cup of coffee (in the NFL), whatever they had to go to and still want to play, and have talked to people how going up there to CFL has given them great opportunity to keep their career going or possibly getting back into the NFL," said New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell, whose current players in the CFL are place-kicker Kamau Peterson of Edmonton, fullback Jon Oosterhuis of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, injured quarterback Ricky Santos and safety Etienne Boulay of the Montreal Alouettes, and defensive back Ryan Hinds of Hamilton.

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