Danny Maciocia knows he has a type and he won’t apologize for it.
Since taking over as general manager of his hometown Montreal Alouettes in 2020, Maciocia has spent nine of the team’s 15 total draft picks on players from the province of Quebec. With his third CFL Draft slated for Tuesday, he senses the jokes and wise cracks have already begun.
“I can just envision this Tuesday when we’re up at pick four and at number 13, people are going to say: ‘Ah, they’ll probably go local.’ Well, we go local because we believe we’ve got some good football players here,” Maciocia said.
“If you go back to 2009, with the exception of two years, there’s been a team that’s represented the RSEQ in the Vanier Cup. There’s a lot of players that are earning a living at the next level, they’re spread out throughout the CFL.”
While every team may boast a few Quebecois standouts, more than ever before are getting a chance to stay at home thanks to the Alouettes’ new “buy local” strategy, implemented by Maciocia. And he won’t pretend that’s not intentional.
“The philosophy here is we’re always going to pick the best player, but everything being equal, we’ll always stay local,” he said frankly.
That approach is rooted in more than simply a belief in the quality of Quebec football. It carries with it several major advantages, both from a team building and player evaluation perspective.
Most importantly, as other teams rush to gather background information on players and assess their character in the weeks leading up to the draft, Maciocia can feel comfortable in the fact that most of his work on Quebecois prospects is already done. In his nine seasons as the head coach of the University of Montreal Carabins prior to returning to the CFL, he likely recruited them as teenagers.
Now, interviews are simply a cross-checking exercise, catching up with the young men he got to know as boys and seeing how they’ve grown.
“It is an advantage and I probably have another couple of years to go with that advantage,” Maciocia admitted. “It’s huge, even with the ones that have chosen not to come [to the Université de Montreal] just because I’ve probably been in their living room. I’ve probably been around that kitchen table. I’ve probably spoken to their mom and I probably know their situation better than a lot of others across the country.”
It is safe to say that if Maciocia had his eye on you coming out of CEGEP, you were no slouch. During his tenure, he built the Carabins into a three-time Dunsmore Cup champion as the top team in the Quebec conference and took home the Vanier Cup as the country’s best team in 2014. He leaned heavily on that university experience in the past two draft cycles, as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic prevented in-person evaluations.
“When we didn’t have the evaluation camp [National Combine] I said to myself: ‘I really don’t need to see them,'” Maciocia grinned. “I’ve seen them. They’ve either played for me or they’ve gotten the best of me over the last few years.”
With the 2022 draft cycle returned to normal, the added familiarity of drafting local has lost some of its added value, though Maciocia believes it remains critical. The strategy also continues to provide the Alouettes with an advantage when it comes to player retention. Homegrown draftees often choose to stay in Montreal for a second contract, sometimes despite better offers from other clubs, because they grew up fans of the organization.
“There’s something about being in your own backyard, playing before your family, playing before your friends, wearing the jersey,” Maciocia noted. “A lot of the guys that I’ve interviewed here for this draft coming up Tuesday, everybody’s seen [Anthony Calvillo] play. Everybody has come to a game and has seen AC play that’s come out of the RSEQ or that’s a Quebecer playing south of the border.”
Players from elsewhere in Canada may not have that ready-built connection, instead drawn to their own hometown teams and families. There are prospects in the upcoming draft that the Alouettes believe could help them, but have deep roots in other cities or aspirations to one day work in a family business that may incentivize them to leave the team early. If a similar Quebec-born player is available, the gamble is a safer one.
While the team sees that as a massive plus for them, it also works in the favour of the athletes they draft.
“Let’s not forget when things are a little bit tougher, there’s a support system that’s waiting for them once they leave the stadium, once they leave the office here. When you’re on the road and you’re in another province, you’re going to have to pick up the phone and the impact is not the same in my opinion,” Maciocia added.
“These are all things that you’re going to have to take into consideration and at the end of the day, we’re not talking about millions of dollars here. That’s why you have to keep it real with a lot of these kids.”
With players like Enock Makonzo, Samuel Emilus, Cyrille Hogan-Saindon and Philippe Lemieux-Cardinal available on Tuesday, the Alouettes will have plenty of local targets once again.
The Als will take those picks in a heartbeat, no matter what anyone says.