It’s not like it was Jordan Bouah’s childhood dream to play professional football. He’s only been playing the sport for four years.
Then, suddenly, on April 11, he became an Ottawa Redblack — selected eighth overall in the CFL’s first European Draft. The 24-year-old Bouah, who is from Rome and just finished his sophomore season at California’s Saddleback College, had previously played for the Gladiators of Rome and for the Italian national team.
“I started my football career in Italy, I played two years there,” explained Bouah, a 5-foot-11 receiver. “I decided to go all-in, move to California for two years. Now I’m here, in Ottawa … it’s incredible.
“I played basketball my whole life. I had a transitional period with basketball, there was a four-month gap where one of my friends suggested I try football. I tried it and really fell in love with it.”
And now, he’s in training camp in Ottawa — hoping despite his lack of experience he’ll stick with the Redblacks. Under the terms of the league’s new collective bargaining agreement (which should soon be ratified), each CFL team will protect one “global” player. For the Redblacks, it will come down to one of four players — Bouah or Mexicans Maximiliano Soto (defensive lineman), Jose Maltos (kicker) and receiver Guillermo Villalobos (receiver).
Asked about the global players, Redblacks coach Rick Campbell said: “They’re good. Speaking of the kicker, we got the second pick down in Mexico City and that was a big deal. He’s definitely a capable field goal kicker and we’ll keep working with him. The receivers really work hard. They’re very noticeable, they’re getting better. You can see them figuring things out and as they do, they become better players. Those guys will get some kind of look somehow in the pre-season.”
Can Bouah play in the CFL?
“Absolutely, I can play,” said Bouah whose dad is African and lives in Dallas and whose mom is Italian. “I wouldn’t leave my home if I didn’t think I could.”
Bouah was at the CFL Combine in Toronto in March, showcasing his talent for teams.
“It went pretty good, I was pretty happy,” he said. “I had high expectations of myself, but at the same time I was coming off an injury (ankle surgery in December) so I wasn’t in the best shape. It was just old injuries that had gotten worse with time — they cleaned my ankle up and it was great.”
Bouah, who was working in a pizza shop — Pizzeria Gustafa back in Rome — says he’s excited about the new opportunity, taking it up a few notches from playing for a club team in Rome and a college team in the U.S.
“(Going to college), it was incredible the way I developed,” he said. “I was used to practising to two days a week, then I was practising six days a week. It wasn’t easy, it was challenging. (Getting a training camp opportunity in Ottawa), I’m really enjoying the experience. It’s a very high level from what I’m used to. I’m studying the playbook, trying to learn everything.”
If all goes according to plan, it’ll be a much smoother ride than his trip to Ottawa before rookie camp last week. He had about a 30-hour journey here after fuel problems forced him to spend an unplanned stopover night in Dublin.
FIGHTING FOR JOBS: There were two scraps between offensive and defensive linemen during Tuesday’s practice. One of them — it looked like defensive lineman Zaycoven Henderson was one of the players involved — drew a large crowd of peacemaking teammates into the middle of it. “It’s fantastic …. the boys are competing, people want their spots,” said offensive lineman Alex Mateas. “All I know is there ended up being more white jerseys (worn by offensive players) than black jerseys (defensive). You always want your boys to back you up. But you also don’t want anybody getting injured.” Asked about the incidents, Campbell said: “You don’t want to ever see people fight and get hurt. But guys are competing. This was our first day in pads so it’s getting used to that with a little more contact happening. The guys are fine and you move on. I would hold it against them if they couldn’t regroup and didn’t move on from it.”
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT: Speaking about two of the team’s long-time veterans — Antoine Pruneau and Brad Sinopoli — Campbell said: “Both those guys are examples of how to play football the right way — with great energy and passion. The best way they lead is by how they practise and how they play. They go full speed all the time. It’s also good to have guys who have been around here. It’s hard to believe for me, but we’re already going into Year 6 — it’s crazy for me that time is flying by that fast. It’s good to have people around here who understand what it means to be a Redblack, what it means to live in Ottawa.”
HAIR RAISING: Mark Nelson is tying his hair up in a ponytail these days. The 62-year-old Redblacks linebackers coach grew his hair out last season and has kept the look going. “I don’t like to wear a ballcap so I have to pull it back,” said Nelson. “I had a brush cut, short hair, for a long time. When I went to college I had long hair — my senior year, it was probably longer than it is now. You get my age, you have to change your look, you’re a moving target. Back in the old days, I had an earring probably before people had earrings.”
THE END AROUND: While the team hasn’t announced it yet, it looks like the Redblacks have signed receiver DeVonte Dedmon (his school — William & Mary congratulated him for signing on Twitter) … Kicker Tyler Crapigna, who’s from Ottawa, is in a five-way battle for the Toronto Argonauts’ kicking job. Crapigna is up against former Redblacks Ronnie Pfeffer and Zack Medeiros along with Drew Brown and Donald De La Haye. Crapigna kicked three seasons for Saskatchewan before missing last season with an injury. The Riders released Crapigna earlier this month … Former Gee-Gees star Jackson Bennett has been switched from linebacker to running back by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
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