Naylor: CFL draft in Mexico had 'sense of excitement'
Diego Jair Viamontes will forever have a place in Canadian football history.
The receiver with Mayas of Mexico's Liga de Futbol Americano Profesional was the first player taken in the first-ever LFA/CFL draft on Monday. Viamontes went No. 1 overall to the Edmonton Eskimos, who got the first pick in a weighted draw, in Mexico City.
The five-foot-10, 189-pound receiver was first announced by the number he'd been assigned Sunday for the LFA combine in front of CFL officials. It wasn't until Viamontes heard his name that he fully realized he'd been selected first overall.
"I knew that was my number but I couldn't believe it," he said via telephone from Mexico City following the draft. "I was doubting it, like, 'Is that really my number?' When they said my name, that's when I knew.
"I've prepared for this. I've worked not only to be drafted but also be the first pick. Obviously you just work for it, you don't expect it but I've wanted to play professional football since I started playing in 2001 at age 11."
Viamontes expects to attend Edmonton's rookie camp later this year.
The combine and draft are the result of a letter of a agreement the CFL and LFA signed in November in Edmonton during Grey Cup week. It's part of CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie's vision to grow the Canadian league.
However, not everyone shares Ambrosie's view.
"We're drafting out of Mexico," tweeted Ottawa offensive lineman SirVincent Rogers, a native Texan. "American players make up approximately half the league, and enter as free agents.
"What am I missing?"
All nine CFL teams had representatives at both the combine and draft. Viamontes posted the top time in the shuttle (4.20 seconds) in the combine.
Viamontes played football in high school and at the University del Valle de Mexico before spending time in 2017 with the now defunct Monterrey Steel of the National Arena League. The 28-year-old said he also has some Canadian football experience, attending camps in California in 2016 staged by both the Ottawa Redblacks and Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
"Since then I've been (watching) Canadian football, following their systems, their selections and plays and rules," he said. "The most difficult thing is the man in motion but I know this is an advantage and I've been practising it a lot."
Viamontes was the first of 27 players selected over three rounds. Receiver was the most popular position with seven players selected, followed by defensive back second (six) and defensive linemen (five). Four kickers were also selected.
Only two offensive linemen were taken, in stark contrast to the Canadian draft where it is a very popular position. However, tackle Rene Francisco Brassea did go sixth overall to the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Brassea registered 30 reps in the bench press in Sunday's combine, the second-most.
An interesting selection was defensive end Octavio Noe Gonzalez at No. 7 by the B.C. Lions. Gonzalez, who posted a combine-high 33 reps in the bench press, has worked out previously with the NFL's Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants.
"Physically, he looks like a football player," said new Lions head coach DeVone Claybrooks, a former defensive lineman. "He tested well, he's explosive out of his stance.
"He's a real raw athlete who we see having the skillset to play special teams until he develops. You're excited about the potential, however you also know there's plenty of work to be done and it's going to take a lot of work by the kid also. But he's a smart, intelligent kid."
It became very apparent Monday that Mexican football players are very familiar with social media. Receiver Carlos Olvera immediately took to Twitter after being selected in the second round, No. 15 overall, by Saskatchewan.
"Can't be more excited to be part of this great team and organization," he tweeted. "Let's Goooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!! #RiderPride."
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers, meanwhile, took a pair of defensive backs (Sergio Schiaffino, Manuel Eduardo Hernandez) in the first two rounds before adding kicker Gabriel Amavizca with the second-last pick of the third round. GM Kyle Walters expects all three players in rookie camp.
"We took a defensive back high who I think can come in and compete," Walters said. "He's played some Arena football and he's played at the international level.
"I don't think he'll look out place in a CFL training camp."
Walters also attended Sunday's combine and was pleasantly surprised with what he saw. Walters felt between eight and 10 of the 51 participants had the ability to compete at a CFL training camp.
"The deepest group was probably the receivers, there were two or three really good prospects who I think can come in and not look out of place," he said. "There wasn't a lot of depth but certainly each position had a couple of kids, it was intriguing.
"It kind of went similar to the Canadian draft where your top 10 picks are pretty close to everybody seeing them the same way in some particular order."
Claybrooks had attended football camps in Mexico before this week and had a clearer idea of what to expect. But even he was surprised by some of the combine participants.
"There was a handful who caught your eye and you'd go, 'Oh,'" he said. "But both the LFA and CFL did a great job, it was a terrific combine.
"Everything was top-notch and first-rate. I've been to combines where they just throw it up in a day or two but this was very well thought out. It was a very good show."