The CFL and CIS seasons may be over, but there's still plenty of football for three-down pigskin aficionados. The NCAA is entering its bowl season, and in addition to spread offences and passing attacks CFL fans will find familiar, it offers a glimpse of some of the talents who might be heading north of the border in the next few seasons. The NFL is also kicking into high gear, and one of its top players at the moment just happens to have a strong north-of-the-border connection.
CFL fans will surely remember Cameron Wake (pictured above sacking Chicago's Jay Cutler in a Nov. 18 game), who tore up the league in 2007 and 2008, claiming rookie of the year in his initial campaign and defensive player of the year the following season. Wake made an impact right from his first game with the B.C. Lions, recording three sacks and seven tackles in a Lions' victory over Toronto. He finished the 2007 campaign with a league-high 16 sacks and a blocked field goal, but then went on to even greater success in 2008, putting up an incredible 23 sacks. That was only three less than the entire Hamilton Tiger-Cats squad recorded that season. Wake was one of the league's most dominant players, and you can bet that plenty of quarterbacks around the CFL breathed a sigh of relief when he headed to the NFL's Miami Dolphins in 2009.
With the Dolphins, Wake transitioned back to the outside linebacker position he'd played at Penn State instead of the defensive end spot he'd played in the CFL. He only started one game in 2009, and was competing for playing time with the likes of Joey Porter and Jason Taylor, but still managed to record five and a half sacks, 19 solo tackles, a knocked-down pass and a forced fumble. The Dolphins parted ways with both Porter and Taylor in the offseason, paving the way for Wake to start, and he hasn't disappointed.
Wake has piled up 12 sacks so far, tops in the NFL. He's turned into a force against the run as well, recording 36 solo tackles and eight assisted ones; he's also forced two fumbles. Offences are paying more and more attention to him all the time in their blocking schemes, but that hasn't slowed him down much; Wake's still managed to record three and a half sacks in his last three games. At this rate, he seems likely to earn a Pro Bowl berth. Wake's made the CFL-to-NFL transition very well, and seems poised to be a four-down star for years to come.
One of Wake's former B.C. teammates is also doing well on the American gridiron. Stefan Logan delivered an impressive rookie campaign for the B.C. Lions in 2008, rushing 122 times for 889 yards and hauling in 52 passes for 477 yards. He signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2009 and made the team as a return man, where he performed quite well; he didn't record a touchdown, but picked up 1466 yards on kick returns and 280 more on punt returns, breaking the Steelers' record for single-season return yardage in the process. After training camp this year, though, Pittsburgh decided to go in a different direction and released Logan. He caught on another brand of Lions in Detroit, though, and he's picked up 1239 kick return yards, 286 punt return yards and a kick return touchdown so far this year.
Some CIS players are finding success down south as well. The Manitoba Bisons' Israel Idonije is having a career year with the Chicago Bears, putting up seven sacks and 37 total tackles so far. The Regina Rams' Jon Ryan is still punting for Seattle, and Concordia's Cory Greenwood (the third-overall pick in this year's CFL draft, by Toronto) has managed to hang on with the Kansas City Chiefs and is seeing some game time, mostly as a special-teams player. Other Canadian-born players, including the Rams' O.J. Atogwe and the Lions' Nate Burleson, are also continuing to do well.
The transition from the Canadian to the American game isn't an easy one, though. None of the 18 CFL players who signed with NFL teams this offseason appear to remain on active rosters (John Chick is on Indianapolis' practice roster). Many have returned to the CFL successfully, including Calgary's Dimitri Tsoumpas, Montreal's S.J. Green and Hamilton's Stevie Baggs, but some, like Saskatchewan's Ryan Grice-Mullen, haven't had an easy time coming back, and others, like Martell Mallett, Titus Ryan and Larry Taylor, haven't even been able to lock down another CFL job at the moment. The rarity of successful transitions between the two leagues makes what Wake's done even more impressive. Wake's current #91 jersey may be teal and orange instead of orange and white, but he's still a treat to watch for both CFL and NFL fans.