Western University quarterback Chris Merchant is signing with the Wasa Royals of Vaahteraliiga, per sources.
The six-team Finnish league was founded in 1980 and formed a partnership with the Canadian Football League in February 2019.
The CFL has partnered with a number of international leagues over the past year as part of its global initiative. One of the tenets of these agreements is to provide opportunities for Canadian players to compete abroad at the professional level.
Merchant went unselected in the 2019 CFL draft, though he was later signed by the Montreal Alouettes. Released following training camp, he returned to Western for his fifth and final year of USports eligibility.
Montreal elected not to retain his rights for the 2020 season, making Merchant a free agent. He says the opportunity to play for the Royals came along at the right time.
“It just seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to go over there and not only continue pursuing my dream of playing hopefully in the CFL someday, but to go over there and maybe help out with the CFL 2.0 initiative,” Merchant told 3DownNation.
Merchant also expressed his desire to travel and see the world as a factor in his decision to play abroad.
International players are also being given the opportunity to make a career in Canada by way of global combines. The CFL hosted a combine in Finland in January with receivers Micky Kyei and Sebastien Sagne earning invitations to the CFL national combine in March.
Merchant originally committed to the University of Buffalo before transferring to Western in 2016. He quickly became the club’s starter, leading the team to an 8-2 record and a berth in the Yates Cup.
The Calgary native helped the Mustangs capture the Vanier Cup the following season, ending Western’s 23-year championship drought. He was named the game’s Most Valuable Player after recording 276 passing yards, 89 rushing yards and three touchdowns against Laval’s vaunted defence.
Western returned to the Vanier Cup under Merchant’s leadership in 2018, but lost to the Rouge et Or by a score of 34-20. The quarterback set new career-highs in passing yardage (3,279) and touchdowns (23) in what would be his best statistical USports season.
Merchant capped his career at Western by winning the Hec Crighton Trophy, given annually to the top player in USports football. It marked the first time a member of the Mustangs was given the award since Andy Fantuz in 2005.
“This is brand new. I don’t know anybody,” said Merchant. “I’m going in pretty blind, but I’ve talked with the GM and he thinks I’ll fit in right away. I’m excited. The game of football — that’s what connects people. I’m not too worried about not knowing anybody.”