When sports fans hear a Swedish athlete has been drafted to a Montreal team, they’d think probably the Habs or possibly CF Montreal, but the Alouettes? Yes, the Alouettes is the correct answer as in the recent Global Draft; they selected William James of Sweden as the 31st overall pick in the fourth round. “Getting drafted is only one step,” William James said in a Zoom interview from Sweden. “My mind right away shifted to the next step of making the team and being able to contribute to the team. I want to be a factor in helping the team get the Grey Cup”

The 29 year-old safety has taken a circuitous route to this point of his career, which began playing youth football in Sweden. There was six seasons on the Arlanda Jets and he was a member of the Swedish Junior national team for three seasons. What got him into the game was an invite from a friend. “I played floorball and a little soccer but I was pretty physical,” James said. “One day a friend was logging onto his team page and I asked what was that. He said it’s American football would I like to try it. I went to a couple of practices and loved the intensity and the hitting, I was hooked.”

James looked to broaden his football and educational horizons and began writing letters to universities stateside looking to make the grade. The opportunity was presented by the University of North Dakota where James was invited as a walk on for the Fighting Hawks. Not only did he make the team but two seasons in James earned a scholarship to play. Playing in the NCAA was a big career boost for James. “That was massive,” he said. “That separated me from the European level. I knew if I wanted to continue to play I wanted to dominate so I took it very serious and learned as much as possible.”

Following graduation, the 5-foot-10, 194 pound James returned to the field as a semi-pro with stints in Finland, Germany and at home in Sweden. It was in Germany where he played for the Dresden Monarchs for three seasons but felt he was in a rut, so it was off to Australia to play rugby. “After three years with Dresden I didn’t feel I was developing and being able to take my game to the next level,” he said. “I had seen some videos of rugby highlights in Australia and thought that looks like fun.”

There was a hitch down under as James needed to find employment in the Outback to maintain his visa. That hitch turned into a horse hitch as he took on a job training race horses while playing rugby for the Manly Marlins. “I liked it there and wanted to stay but I had to work in the Outback,” he said. “I saw some other jobs but they looked boring so I went with the horses. I might have over extended myself because those beasts were big.”

The road to the draft began just before the pandemic arrived James headed home to take part in the CFL combine. “The Swedish Federation reached out about the combine there,” he said. “They told me I had a spot secured so I thought if I didn’t go I’d regret it so I bought a ticket and flew home.” James did impress the combine staff and was offered a ticket to Toronto, then the pandemic hit. “I had gone back to Australia to work with the horses and continue training,” he said. “I flew into Finland and then the borders were locked down.”

The combine turned into a virtual one where James got to showcase his skills, with the end result being the Alouettes calling his name in the draft. “It was pretty unreal,” he said. “It wasn’t just a one year thing; I worked my butt off the entire year. Training six days a week, two a days and a 50 hour work week. But it was a culmination of 10 years work, travelling, doing all these things, living rough sometimes. It felt huge, I was stoked.”

James is busily preparing for his chance to make the Montreal roster. Not only is he training but James is catching up on the Canadian style of play with any games he can find on the internet.

“I’ve been watching games as much as possible,” he said. “I’m fortunate because there’s a guy here who is going to play for the Calgary Dinos. He’s been showing me the waggle and how forward motion works. I am working on those things as much as possible to add to my repertoire.”

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