Everett Ellefsen was born in Louisiana, grew up there, played his college football not far from home at McNeese State and speaks with the hint of a bayou drawl.
He’s never felt more Canadian.
The defensive end will play his first regular season game for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Friday night in Edmonton as one of the team’s 21 national players after being drafted in sixth round of 2015 Canadian draft by the Ticats.
He is the beneficiary of a recent CFL rule change which updated the eligibility requirements for national players. Instead of a Byzantine set of regulations involving years spent playing football in Canada as a youngster, the league made it simple: any player with Canadian citizenship when he signs his first contract is considered a national.
The change was made primarily to increase the number of potential national players for the CFL says TSN analyst Duane Forde, who follows the Canadian draft closely.
“With nine teams and more Canadian players getting an opportunity in the NFL, there’s a strain on the national talent pool so the league needed to do something to balance it,” Forde said. “As much as some people may want to make a fuss, it’s better: they’re still Canadian.”
Despite his American upbringing, Ellefsen’s mother Halyna was born in a rural area east of Ottawa near the Quebec-Ontario border. He visited once or twice a year growing up, he says, and remembers his summers on the farm fondly. The family stopped going as often, however, when Halyna died in 2001. Ellefsen was nine.
Still, his Canadian lineage made him eligible for citizenship and heading into his senior season at McNeese, Ellefsen became aware of the rule change and figured it could give him a better opportunity at playing professional football. Though he had a solid career at the Division I school, finishing with 111 total tackles and 10 quarterback sacks, he was a long shot to make the NFL.
It took him months to get the necessary paperwork together but three weeks before the draft last May, his citizenship papers arrived in the mail and he recently picked up his Canadian passport.
“I was showing my buddies my Canadian passport and my American one,” Ellefsen said. “It made me feel like 007.”
But Ellefsen says the best thing about becoming a Canuck has nothing to do with espionage or even football: By becoming Canadian, he feels closer to his mom.
“The fact that she’s such a big part of this, that she’s still looking over me after all these years is amazing,” he said. “I’m here because of her in so many ways.”