Finding an international player who can compete in the CFL is a tough task, though a few teams have pulled it off. B.C. wants to be next, and have the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft.

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Finding that diamond in the rough is a tough prospect when there’s far more rough than diamond.

While there may have been a few gems to come out of CFL Global Draft, a league initiative designed to generate more international interest in the league, that shiny stone will mostly likely turn out to be a cubic zirconium.

For every Thiadric Hansen blowing up blockers and returners in the Grey Cup, there’s a host of Max Zimmermanns or Roni Salonens (The Finnish Lawrence Taylor) who have faded into obscurity.

Of four internationals taken by the B.C. Lions (wide receivers Benjamin Plu, Alvarez Gerardo, Fernando Martinez and defensive lineman Octavio Gonzales) since the initiative started in 2019, only Plu remains with the Lions. His stats: four games played, zero everything else.

B.C. has the first pick in next Thursday’s Global Draft, and they want to find a player like Hansen, who played eight years in the German Football League before Winnipeg took him with the second pick in the 2019 European Draft. The 6-foot-2, 243-pound, 28-year-old was a real contributor in Winnipeg, playing all 18 regular-season games, recording five tackles, a sack (on B.C.’s Mike Reilly, coincidentally) and two forced fumbles. He had two more special teams tackles in three playoff games, including the massive special teams stop that set the CFL ablaze.

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Geroy Simon, the Lions’ director of Global Scouting and U.S. Regional Scout, has been digging through the combine results and video, and breaking down countless hours of game film in his search to figure out which diamond prospects can cut glass, and which ones can cut bait.

CFL teams are currently required to have two Global Players on their roster, so finding ones that can contribute is the primary goal. Finding those who have experience — especially in the three-down game, like Plu, who played for the McGill Redbirds — is a bonus.

“We’re just looking for the best player, the best guy that can have a little bit of an impact on a team from the beginning,” he said. “(But) it’s been a challenge just because you can’t see any of these guys in person. We haven’t seen these guys up close and personal.

“You can look at all the video you want, but until you put your eyes on the guy up close, see his body type, see what his what his hips look like, what his ankles look like, it’s tough. … But it’s the hand we’re dealt. Everybody has to deal with it. So you do the best you can and try to make an informed decision on the information that you’ve gathered.”

Making his job easier — and harder — is the fact this year’s draft will have all the players who were eligible for last year’s draft, which was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. And there are some legitimate prospects in the player pool.

Chris Ezeala was a rib-cracking linebacker for the Ingolstadt Dukes in Germany before the 5-11, 243-pounder spent two years as a fullback on the Baltimore Ravens practice roster. Running back Justin Rodney, another GFL product from the Frankfurt Universe, put up a league-verified 4.37 40-yard dash in the CFL Global Combine — faster than any of his position counterparts at the NFL Combine.

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Six-foot-four, 300-pound Japanese offensive lineman Tomoya Machino cranked out 31 reps on the bench, tying for the most at the combine, and a 10-rep improvement for the six-foot-four, 303-pounder over last year.

The Lions currently only have one kicker on the roster, and could look to build competition at that position by looking at guys like Norway’s Kaare Vedvik, an NFL vet who was waived by the Washington NFL team in January, or Joseph Zema who punted balls alongside former Lion Sergio Castillo for the San Antonio Commanders in the AAF.

“What I don’t want is to have a guy sitting on the sideline and just warming up the quarterback,” said Neil McEvoy, the Lions director of football ops and co-general manager with coach Rick Campbell.

“I’d like to get a guy that can contribute on special teams at minimum. And we’ll see if he does have the ability to play defensive or offensive snaps during the season. But we need to get a guy in that’s going to be able to help us from day one and there’s certainly guys available in this draft that will be able to do that.”

The Lions have fielded calls about trading the top pick in the draft, but McEvoy said they currently have no plans on giving it up, and have a short-list of about 10 players they are considering heading into the pre-draft interviews this week.

“It’s been refreshing,” McEvoy said. “Refreshing is the word that comes up. Just having the ability to talk to these guys outside of North America about Canadian football. It’s refreshing and it’s not negative — it’s just all positive.

“All these young men are looking for an opportunity. That part of it’s been really good. It makes it fun, just explaining the way football is and just a different culture and some of the questions they have coming on to Canada and the excitement they have of the next step.”

jadams@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/TheRealJJAdams

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