English rivals take different routes to Canadian Football League combine

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University of Nottingham fullback Finley Old caught a deep ball just before halftime of the championship game, then immediately made a beeline for the dressing room where he tore off his pads and dressed in civvies, grabbed a ride to the tube station, caught a train to London and boarded a plane for Edmonton.

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Twenty-four hours after his post-game overseas odyssey began, he was preparing himself for skills and drills at the Canadian Football League combine. And jet lag be damned.

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“It was a tough decision between staying and helping the team out and coming here to the combine, but I don’t regret it,” Old said on Saturday. “I put blood, sweat and tears into that team and fought with the boys for so long and they needed the help.

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“I do wish I had tested better in certain combine drills. The (40-yard dash) I think I could have been faster in, but again, I just got off the plane and I was tired. Then the adrenalin kicked in and it was all fine and I got a good rest.

“I’d travel for as long as it takes to get here; it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

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Old had taken the ball down to the University of West England Bullets’ three-yard-line and his teammates punched it in for a touchdown without him, but the Nottingham Gold still wound up on the wrong end of a 34-27 final, losing the national university title to the Bullets for a second straight year.

Because the national train system shuts down at night, and the game was being played in Nottingham in the far north of England, Old knew he’d have to leave early to make it to the combine in Edmonton on time. Bullets’ defensive lineman Max Parkinson, another combine invitee, decided to pass up the championship tilt and focus only on the task at hand.

“But I still get a ring,” he said, “because I played in the semi-final.

“I think I made the right decision. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to be there with the team, but when the bigger opportunities come around, you’ve got to take them.”

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This is indeed a big opportunity for Old, Parkinson and 19 other global players at the combine, which wraps up Sunday at the Commonwealth Community Recreation Centre. In Thursday testing, Parkinson shared the combine lead on the 225-pound bench press with an impressive 29 reps. The remainder of his numbers were also competitive, including a lightning quick 4.74-second time in the 40-yard dash, tops among all 18 defensive linemen here, national and global.

At 6-foot-3 and 271 pounds, the 21-year-old personal trainer from Croydon is a muscled physical specimen, to be sure, but his lack of experience in the game is an obstacle he will have to overcome. He has played just nine games of tackle football, total, after taking it up less than 18 months ago in west England, where they play American rules. Once he got the invitation, he studied CFL film and had a decent grasp on the different rules, he said.

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“I’m pretty sure I’m probably the newest to the game here. But I wouldn’t have accepted the opportunity if I didn’t think I was capable, for one and for two, willing. Hey, who doesn’t want to play professional sport? For me, that’s always been the dream. Whether I knew it was going to be American football, who knows.”

With 27 selections coming in the league’s global draft on May 2, there is a chance most combine invitees will hear their names called, though CFL teams have concentrated their early picks on Australian punters and kickers.

The most celebrated global player in the CFL to date has been Winnipeg defensive lineman Thiadric Hansen, who excels on special teams and has been in the rotation along the line. Old would like nothing better than to be one of the first globals to make a contribution on offence. And indeed, the 27-year-old from London put up some testing numbers that were competitive in his small position group.

But if he doesn’t attract the attention of a CFL team this time around, he’ll try again next year and in the meantime he has a solid fall-back position. On academic scholarship, he’s a fully funded, third-year PhD student in virology, studying arenavirus, which is prevalent in West Africa and South America.

“I got super lucky. They took a chance on me and I’m hoping to prove them right with the PhD, the same way I’m hoping a team will take a chance here and I can put as much hard work in and prove them right.”




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