You don’t build a Grey Cup champion through the CFL Global Draft.
All the proof you need is the B.C. Lions who held the first overall pick in Thursday afternoon’s four-round draft that had 36 players selected from 18 different countries. The Lions didn’t draft a dynamic pass rusher or a franchise left tackle, they chose a punter: Australian Jake Ford.
Whether you see the value in the league’s global initiative or not, there’s one thing about it that can’t be argued: the players drafted Thursday boast some incredible stories.
Starting in reverse and jumping to the fourth round, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers joined the punter party and used their last pick on Australian Arryn Siposs — the seventh punter off the board. Siposs was a professional Aussie rules footballer for five years but decided to try a different kind of football after three shoulder surgeries. He played two seasons at powerhouse Auburn University before he was signed by the Detroit Lions as an undrafted free agent where he spent most of 2020 on the practice squad. The Philadelphia Eagles signed the 28-year-old to a futures contract in January, so there’s no guarantee he’ll ever don the Blue and Gold.
In the third round, the Bombers drafted linebacker Ayo Oyelola out of Great Britain. A promising soccer player, Oyelola decided to step away from the game and study to be a lawyer at the University of Nottingham. While in school, he came across some highlights on YouTube of New York Giants star running back Saquon Barkley. Oyelola was hooked. He went on to suit up for Nottingham’s college team where he made a big enough impression to be one of 11 people to be invited to participate in the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program. Oyelola, 22, will head to Florida soon where he will battle for one of four NFL international practice roster spots.
The Bombers hit the trenches in the second round as they used the 15th overall pick on Japanese offensive lineman Tomoya Machino, a 6-5, 299 pounder who is coming off of four seasons at Kyoto University. The 23-year-old played baseball in high school before giving football a shot at the college level. He displayed some impressive athleticism for a player his size at last year’s CFL combine event in Japan in February.
And lastly, or perhaps firstly, there’s Japanese linebacker Les Maruo. The Bombers grabbed Maruo, who played two years professionally in Japan’s X-League with the Asahi Challengers, with the fourth overall pick. Born in Japan, Maruo was four years old when his father John Hutton was killed in a car accident. Maruo’s mother would remarry and the family moved to Wichita, Kan., when he was nine. It wasn’t easy as he couldn’t speak any English at first, but he fell in love with football, which helped him adapt to the American lifestyle. After high school, Maruo only got one junior college offer to continue playing. He took the offer and played at Hutchinson Community College, where he was teammates with New Orleans Saints Pro Bowl running back Alvin Kamara for a season, before landing an NCAA Division I scholarship at the University of Texas-San Antonio.
“It’s been a long ride man,” Maruo said in a conference call from his home in San Antonio.
“Out of high school, only one junior college offer and it wasn’t easy at junior college. (Hutchinson) produced a lot of guys and there was a lot of competition. I had to get out of there and go to UTSA. I dealt with a few things here and there but I ended up being the starter. I’ve always had to face adversity and I’ve always been an underdog so it’s nothing new to me. Now I get the chance to showcase my talent in Canada and it’s a dream come true.”
A six-footer who weighs 230 pounds, Maruo posted 86 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks, two fumble recoveries, one interception and one pass knockdown as a senior at UTSA. Maruo, 25, said he had a hunch that he’d be heading to Winnipeg.
“I got along with the coaches, the GMs, and all that and I really liked everybody on the staff,” said Maruo.
“It’s funny, I was telling my friends I was feeling it and ‘I’m going to get picked fourth by Winnipeg.’ We had a Zoom meeting with them three or four times and I had a Zoom meeting with them yesterday. I felt like they cared about me more than the other teams. So, I was like, ‘Man, I would love to go to Winnipeg’ because they bring that family-oriented team feel. I really loved that about them. I’m so glad I got picked to Winnipeg.”
It remains to be seen when Maruo, and the rest of the draft class, will get to show their CFL teams what they can do in person. With all the uncertainty surrounding the league, especially the 2021 season, Maruo — who has a Masters of Science degree in Business — was asked why he wants to devote the time and energy to make it in the CFL.
“I know I have a Master’s degree and I could probably get another job, but I just want to play football until my wheels fall off,” he said.
“I want to do something I love until I can’t anymore, until my body can’t allow me to play anymore. Money is not everything for me. I’m just hoping and praying that we have a season because football is everything to me.”
While he hopes and prays for a season, the Bombers are hoping and praying Maruo can be as successful as defensive end Thiadric Hansen, a native of Germany who the team selected second overall in the CFL’s European Draft in 2019. Hansen played above and beyond expectations en route to the Bombers hoisting the Grey Cup, proving that there’s some talent overseas that can contribute at this level.
“People might think I’m crazy, but I’m willing to die for this game,” Maruo said.
“That’s how much I love this game. I put it all into the game. I’ll do anything for the team. I’m putting my heart, body and soul into the game. That’s just how I play.”
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.
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