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Edmonton Eskimos receiver poster boy for CFL 2.0 initiative

Commissioner Randy Ambrosie’s CFL 2.0 took its initial steps on the field Sunday.

Unfortunately, a couple of them were backwards.

Diego Viamontes became the de facto poster boy for the league’s global initiative after being chosen first overall in the inaugural draft to take place on international soil, when the Edmonton Eskimos took the speedy 29-year-old receiver in January’s CFL-LFA (Liga de Futbol Americano Professional) draft.

“I didn’t think of it like that,” Viamontes said, grinning ear to ear. “But, yeah, I am.”

And it’s a role the receiver out of Mayas CDMX is more than happy to take on in his first CFL training camp, knowing all international eyes are on him.

“Yes, I said it back then when the draft happened, I prepared to be the No. 1 pick. And I was,” he said. “Now, I prepare to be on the team. To help my team in any way, to get to the Grey Cup. That’s my final expectation, my final goal.”

As with any journey into the unknown, it’s beginning with baby steps — even if a couple of them were in the wrong direction as the 2019 CFL pre-season opened Sunday.

Viamontes’ only statistics from the game, aside from one receiver target, came on a punt return that saw him get tackled at the same time he caught the ball.

His other global-labelled teammates pitched in, with defensive back Jose Alfonsin earning a defensive tackle and France’s Maxime Rouyer making a special-teams tackle.

No one expected the international integration to happen overnight.

“It’s like the coach told us, you have short-term goals first, and every short-term goal helps to reach the big one,” said Viamontes.

However long that takes, and whatever it takes, he certainly won’t be taking the opportunity in front of him for granted.

“It’s a dream come true,” Viamontes said. “I think every football player dreams of playing at this level, no?

“The facilities here, the coaching staff are the best that a player can ask. The organization, all the people here — aside from just team-wise — are amazing. They’re treating us great.”

Learning a playbook in another language.

“I’m taking all my notes in English so I can verbalize it and memorize it that way,” Viamontes said. “And the size of the playbook, there are many plays so that has been a little bit difficult for me, but I’m keeping up every day learning something new and catching up with the team.”

He’s not the only player from the Mexican league getting a crash course with a CFL playbook this season. A group of players from the LFA all stay in contact via group chat.

“Everybody’s in there and more or less saying the same thing, at least with the other receivers, that the playbook’s too big,” Viamontes said, grinning. “Even when we were going to the bathroom, we’d take the playbook with us.”

But when it comes to the gridiron, Viamontes hasn’t looked the least bit out of place.

“I think people are surprised that I fit in,” he said. “This is what I trained all my life for, so when I was back in Mexico, I trained for being on a professional team and that’s why when I got here, it didn’t take too long to fit in.

“I still have to learn. Every day I learn something new and thanks to my coach and my teammates for teaching me and telling me little tips and everything.”

One thing he’s making a point of learning more about away from the field is hockey.

“I know that is the biggest sport up here,” said Viamontes, adding Canada’s official winter sport is more popular in his home country than people here might realize. “I have many friends back in Mexico who play hockey.”

But soccer is king where he’s from, which begs the question: How did he wind up playing the ‘other’ football?

“I tried football – or ‘soccer’ – but it wasn’t fun for me, I wanted some contact,” said Viamontes, who played football and rugby in Mexico, and stepped foot on his first gridiron at age 11. “I like contact sports. It’s like playing chess, you have to be on your five senses all the time. And that’s what I like about football and not soccer.”

And he sees Ambrosie’s 2.0 initiative as only helping football rise in popularity around the world.

“We’re trying to build a bridge between our countries and I think we have a lot to share and a lot to learn about football here in Canada,” Viamontes said. “And that will help our football down in Mexico.

“Only being here, it’s amazing. All the things I’ve learned over the past few days equals a few years of learning back in Mexico. So this global CFL idea will speed up football in every aspect.”

One baby step at a time.


On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge