CFL Hometowns: Where Do Our Players Come From?

As anyone who follows the CFL will tell you, having a roster flush with Canadian (“national”) talent is key to achieving success in the Canadian Football League. Each team is required to field nineteen nationals per game – starting seven – while also being ready to accommodate the injuries that will inevitably afflict these players. Given the limited nature of the Canadian talent pool (the American talent pool is roughly 15-20 times larger), finding and keeping these nineteen national players (along with some talented replacements) is unquestionably the toughest task for general managers across the league.

But where do these national players come from? Typically, this question is answered with the names of Canada’s leading CIS programs like Laval, Calgary, and McMaster. Today, though, I’d like to go one step further: player’s hometowns. As it is, the hometowns of CFL players are typically only discussed when free agency rolls around in the event that a big-name free agent chooses to sign with his hometown team. This discussion happens for good reason, too, considering how often such signings takes place. I’ve made a small chart below to indicate which current CFL players have signed with teams in their home provinces as a free agents. It should also be noted that Medicine Hat’s Dan Federkeil forced his rights to be traded from Toronto to Calgary in 2013, though this move cannot be officially considered a free agent signing.

Player Hometown Former Team New Team (Year Signed)
Ricky Foley Courtice, ON BC (and NYJ) Toronto (2010)
Scott McHenry Saskatoon Winnipeg Saskatchewan (2011)
Simeon Rottier Westlock, AB Hamilton Edmonton (2012)
Wayne Smith Etobicoke, ON Hamilton Toronto (2012)
Andy Fantuz Chatham, ON Saskatchewan Hamilton (2012)
Paul Woldu Regina, SK Montreal Saskatchewan (2012)
Brendon LaBatte Weyburn, SK Winnipeg Saskatchewan (2012)
James Yurichuk Brampton, ON BC Toronto (2013)
Brian Bulcke Windsor, ON Edmonton Hamilton (2013)
Craig Butler London, ON Saskatchewan Hamilton (2014)

As we can see from the chart, national players ‘go home’ in free agency at a rate of roughly two per season – a fairly sizeable number given the limited number of nationals that actually make it to free agency every year. I expect this number to grow moving forward for two primary reasons: 1) as the dollar figures allotted for national players grows under the new salary cap, so should the desire for national players to hold out until free agency; 2) the re-introduction of Ottawa has created a club that’s desperate to make connections with fans – having local players is important, doubly so if they can speak French.

Free agency aside, though, where do our players come from? Do players come from all over the country at a fairly even level, or mostly just one or two select provinces? Are players from a certain region more likely to venture back home? Do certain provinces produce players at a significantly higher or lower rate than one would expect their population to allow? Do player home provinces affect what position they play? I will answer all of these questions and more!

Firstly, let’s start with a tally of the CFL’s players based on their province of birth. It should be noted that these figures were adapted from the CFL’s nine team rosters as they appeared on the evening on January 28, 2015. It should also be noted that players who were not born in Canada are included in these numbers based on where they were raised (ie. FB Dahrran Diedrick, born in St. Anne’s, Jamaica was raised in Scarborough, Ontario). Saskatchewan Roughrider punter Josh Bartel is not included in this research because #Australia.

Province Players
Ontario 104
Quebec 51
BC 47
Alberta 34
Saskatchewan 16
Manitoba 9
Nova Scotia 3
New Brunswick 2
Newfoundland 1

As we can see, Ontario is on top with 104 – hardly a surprise given their vast population and wide array of post-secondary options for local football players. I was a little surprised to find Quebec at just 51, but the absence of the CFL in Quebec from 1987-1995 undoubtedly had a negative impact on that number. With the Alouettes dominating for so many years throughout the first decade of the 21st century it’ll be interesting to see how that number grows over the next ten to twenty years – by all accounts, there is still a huge amount of untapped football potential within the province of Quebec.

I was also a little surprised to see that just sixteen CFL players were born in the province of Saskatchewan. That isn’t to say sixteen is an unimpressive number – as we’ll discuss in a moment, sixteen is a great number given the population of Canada’s most rectangular province – but sixteen is still a small number. There’s no way around that. Heck – sixteen isn’t even enough to have two Saskatchewan-born players on every team in the CFL. This surprises me because people in and around the league tend to talk about national players like half are down-home country bumpkins from good ol’ Saskatchewan.

Rider Fan: I love Rob Bagg! I grew up next door to him in downtown Regina!

Me: Rob Bagg was not born nor raised in Regina.

Rider Fan: Downtown Regina!

Me: Rob Bagg is from Kingston.

Rider Fan: Downtown Regina!

Me: *face palm*

Again, no disrespect to the province of Saskatchewan for their sixteen players – it’s a great number for a relatively small population. Let’s just stop pretending that 50% of the CFL’s players were born exclusively in Weyburn, Estevan, and Moose Jaw. Please.

One last thing before we progress to discussing how these numbers look per capita: the CFL needs more Maritimers. The CFL only has six players from out east? SIX!? There are good CIS programs out east – Acadia, StFX, Mount Allison, St. Mary’s. Do they only recruit kids from Ontario and Quebec? The combined population of the Maritimes’ four provinces is greater than those of Manitoba and Saskatchewan combined at 2.4 million. How many more CFL players would we have coming from out east if there was a CFL team there? My guess is a lot. Food for thought.

The CFL also needs a player born in Prince Edward Island. Since he’s not going to make it to the Brier anymore, somebody should teach Eddie MacKenzie how to long snap.

Next, let’s take a look at how these provincial player totals compare to their total populations of their corresponding provinces. The numbers found below were achieved by dividing the number of CFL players from a certain province by that province’s population, then multiplying by 100,000.

Province Players per 100,000 residents
SK 1.42
BC 1.02
AB 0.83
ON 0.76
MB 0.70
QB 0.62
NS 0.32
NB 0.27
NL 0.19

As we can see, Saskatchewan comes out on top at 1.42, an impressive number as previously mentioned. This chart also illustrates the low numbers from Quebec and the Maritimes discussed above. Sitting low, too, is Manitoba – though Bombers fans such as myself have become accustomed to seeing very few local players in blue and gold (#ThanksJoeMack), I thought Manitoba would have more professional football players than Ontario per capita. It should be noted, though, that Manitoba’s number is hurt by the recent retirement of Donovan Alexander and the fact that 2014 draftee Evan Gill has yet to sign his first professional contract.

I should also confess my surprise at the high number posted by BC. Admittedly, I’ve never thought of BC as a football province. I do now. 47 players overall? That’s a huge number for the left coast. Good for them.

Now that we’ve seen the numbers en-masse, how do they look by position? Let’s take a look.

BC 3 2 7 12 6 6 7 3 1
AB 2 2 2 10 5 2 7 1 3
SK 1 3 6 3 2 1
MB 2 2 2 2 1 1
ON 2 7 16 25 16 16 15 4 3
QC 3 7 10 9 8 8 3 2 1
NL 1
NS 3
NB 1 1

To me, the thing that stands out the most is the distribution of players along the offensive line. If you had asked me two days ago which province produces the second most CFL offensive linemen after Ontario my first guess would have been Quebec. My second guess would have been Alberta or Saskatchewan. The answer? BC, with twelve. These twelve offensive linemen even include some highly notable players in stalwart guard Peter Dyakowski, crafty vets Tim O’Neill and Dean Valli, as well as two major blue chip prospects in tackle Hunter Steward and centre Matthias Goossen.

Some other quick thoughts: It’s sad that there are no CFL kickers/punters from outside of our nation’s four most populated provinces; it’s strange that Quebec has each produced more fullbacks than all non-Ontario provinces combined; if you’re from Nova Scotia, you play offensive line; it’s impressive that Manitoba has produced as many CFL running backs as Ontario; six offensive linemen from Saskatchewan is impressive considering their population, but, as I said before – Saskatchewan’s numbers are still pretty darn small.

Lastly, let’s take a look at this chart indicating the number of players each CFL team has on its roster playing in their ‘home province.’ These figures are to be taken with a grain of salt given that the CFL has three teams within the province of Ontario (ie. a player born in Ottawa but playing in Hamilton is still considered to be playing for a ‘hometown’ team under this system) and how provincial lines can blur our perception of geography (ie. a player born in Gatineau, Quebec but playing in Ottawa would not be considered to be playing in a ‘hometown’ under this system).

Province Players
Toronto 20
Ottawa 14
Montreal 13
Hamilton 13
BC 10
Saskatchewan 9
Edmonton 7
Calgary 5
Winnipeg 1

Unsurprisingly, the CFL’s four eastern teams top this list. The three Ontario-based teams, while in competition with one another for the same Ontario-born players, have by the largest player pool from which to draw (104), while Montreal has the second largest player pool (51) without any provincial competition. Sadly, the two other numbers that really jump off the page are Saskatchewan with nine players and Winnipeg with just one. The ’Riders currently employ more than half of the total Saskatchewan-born players in the CFL (9 of 16), while Brett Carter is the lone Manitoba-born Blue Bomber. Fortunately for Winnipeg, having few local kids hasn’t exactly hurt the Calgary Stampeders (5).

That’s it for my hometown CFL roster analysis. Between free agency, the draft, and training camp these numbers will all change as the off-season progresses. Still, though, I feel like this is a nice snapshot of our league and where our players come from.

John Hodge, Blue Bomber Talk

Twitter: @BlueBomberTalk

Email: [email protected]

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.