Canada, land of opportunity: Michael Sam’s blueprint to realize NFL dream

Michael Sam will have to work on his own to succeed in Montreal.

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Will Michael Sam become the next Cameron Wake in the CFL?

I don’t think Sam, who signed a two-year contract with the Montreal Alouettes on Friday, will have a career that emulates the current Miami Dolphins star.

I do think, however, he will be a starter in the league — but one who will get fewer than 10 sacks in the 18-game CFL season.

I believe this because he is with Montreal, one of the better teams in the CFL — this franchise brings success up north as the New England Patriots have in the NFL. Every year the Alouettes are going to be a great football team; the organization is run to a "T." Only there is no scandal associated with the Alouettes. This opportunity actually can elevate Sam’s game as opposed to him bringing his talents to a less-talented team.

When I think of Michael Sam in a Montreal Alouettes jersey, I think of Marc Megna, who wore once the Alouettes jersey and who played seven years in the CFL and NFL combined.

I can tell you firsthand that the CFL is a part-time job: Teams can keep you for only four hours a day and they pay you one-tenth of the pay of the NFL; I made $55,000 a year in the CFL. Most CFL players have secondary jobs, particularly in the offseason.

What is in Sam’s favor? He has his motor going for him — he’s relentless, he doesn’t quit, he does not stop. Size will not be a factor as CFL players are smaller.

For Sam, the first openly gay player to be drafted by an NFL team (Rams, seventh round, 2014), to one day be able to notch seven years of pro football under his belt — whether it’s NFL or CFL or a combination of both  — here’s what he’s going to need to do:

• The CFL weekday workday is four hours long. That consists of watching film and practice.

Sam is going to have to get on a workout regimen in which he is lifting either before or after practice on his own time since the CFL does not require a specified amount of lifting per week — at least it didn’t when I played in 2000 and 2002.

When I was with the British Columbia Lions and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, neither of those teams had an adequate weight room for proper NFL training. Every night I would take myself to the local gym via public transportation in order to get the work done that I needed to do in the weight room to get into the NFL. I understood the CFL was a stepping stone for me.

• While there’s a ton of beautiful people in Canada and fun things to do, I was not distracted by them. I had a goal and mission and nothing was going to stop me.

While Sam is in Montreal he will have to stay focused. Instead of feeling like he’s in Europe and learning how to speak French with the French-Canadians, he will have to put his nose to the grindstone, prepare and eat really clean food, play really good football and in his free time limit the extracurricular activities so he can get in a weight room and continue to develop as a football player. 

• Once Sam gets on a Canadian-sized football field, he will find he is playing in a lot of space. The NFL field will feel small compared to the CFL field. This can pay dividends toward his development.

He’s going to have to get on the field and play special teams, which could be the best learning experience he will be able to gain up north. Once he adds to his development as a special teamer, becoming a guy who can play in space standing up on first and second down and a guy who can put his hand in the dirt on third down. Then we can talk about the makings of an NFL player. 

Personally, I hope Sam embraces the journey. It’s going to be a long one, just like it was at Missouri and just like it has been trying to get in the NFL.

I’ve been there and I’ve done that. I’ve actually one-upped him: I was cut from three NFL teams, plus played on three CFL teams and in NFL Europe before I played my first regular-season down in the NFL.

Sometimes, the road less traveled leads to a much richer experience and existence!