March 4, 2024

Long way from home, Rouyer building connections on Canadian soil

Born and raised in Troyes, France, the norm was always sticking to traditional European football. Considering that tradition, Lions’ Global player Max Rouyer would have never thought playing tackle football in Canada is a reality he’s currently living in now.

In 2019, Rouyer was a by-product of the first-ever CFL European draft. He was one of nine newly-minted European players selected to join the league after being nabbed by Edmonton in round four.

Midway through the 2022 season, Rouyer was signed to the Lions’ practice roster after appearing in 18 contests over two seasons with the green and gold.

“In 2022, I came halfway through the season. I only knew a few guys, mostly the French guys. I had to make new connections,” Rouyer recalled.

“It always takes a while. It’s already middle of the season, people are tired, they don’t have as much time to be curious like the beginning of the year when everyone is fresh.”

He considers himself lucky. Going from a town in France to learning how to play football across the pond in Cegep. Through the proper coaching he had received at Cegep de Jonquière, located in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, Rouyer then found himself playing for McGill University from 2015-18, finishing his university career with over 100 defensive tackles for the Redbirds.

Like the majority of kids in France, soccer is the national pride that gets people attached to the sport for the rest of their lives. Rouyer played soccer for ten years but was looking to try new sports in his adolescence. He did judo with his younger brother for couple years and kept his cleats dirty by playing rugby with friends.

“One of my friends started playing American football. He told me I should give it a try. I had a different body frame when I was younger, I wasn’t as developed,” Rouyer said.

“There was that feeling of a family and I really enjoyed it. Even if it’s a job now in BC, you’re not alone because you have people around you to help.”

Once his local team in France hired a coach from Quebec, that’s when Rouyer got in contact with Cegep de Jonquière. The paperwork to study abroad started shortly after the French-Canadian football connection. Then in 2013, Rouyer started a new chapter in Saguenay, Quebec.

Initially, Rouyer had a plan to study abroad in Canada for a few years, play a new sport and return home to France. His passion for football paid off when McGill University recruited Rouyer to play football for the Redbirds.

“Coming from France, I believe I learned how to love the game but I didn’t learn how to play the game. At McGill, I got really good coaching so that gave me a lot of confidence. There was a gain of maturity, experience and knowledge,” the linebacker recalled.

You can call him the special teams demon. The high energy linebacker from Troyes, France shares his unique journey to the CFL.

Rouyer now makes Montreal his permanent home, often spending quality time his girlfriend and pet husky.

“When I had no eligibility left at McGill, I would have to go back to Europe to play semi-pro league,” Rouyer added.

“I really wanted to stay in Canada because football is a big part of my life here. I was getting my diploma too. If I wanted to work, Canada would be the best place for me.”

He kept training knowing there was a chance that he would be invited to the CFL Combine. Once the French American Football Federation realized Rouyer was one of the few players from France to try out for the CFL, the support from his home nation heightened Rouyer’s chance on staying in Canada.

A few months into 2019, Rouyer was one of four players from France to be selected from the CFL European Draft, including former BC Lion Benjamin Plu, a wide receiver who attended training camp with the Leos that year.

“We had to make a name for ourselves, because it has never been done before for our country. Five, or six years later, there are still only a few of us playing in the CFL. There’s not much player from the first batch. It’s a unique situation because I think there are only three players from France across the CFL.”

Maxime Rouyer

“There’s one playing for Montreal (wide receiver Kevin Kaya, currently a free agent), one for Winnipeg (defensive back Souleymane Karomoko) and there’s me. It’s kind of cool, there’s kind of pressure behind it because you have to do well for the next generation. I’m grateful for every minute.”

Heading to his fifth CFL season in 2024, Rouyer has plenty of playoff football experience; 37 games including five in the playoffs under his belt.

“I got lucky when I was drafted by Edmonton. We went to the playoffs in my first year. The (Eastern) Semi-Final (in Montreal) was my first experience. To me, that was the norm,” he said.

“That’s where you want to get to every year. The vibe is different in the playoffs. I felt that last year, the same feeling I had when I was in Edmonton.”

“It’s all about the timing. I got lucky with the timing. This year is going to be a vibe. I can feel it. We’re not making the same mistakes.”

You can call him the special teams demon. The high energy linebacker from Troyes, France shares his unique journey to the CFL.

Rouyer found himself in a family-oriented locker room with the Lions. With the energy all players feed off each other, Rouyer has been playing with more passion than ever before.

Although the injury bug held him back towards the end of the 2023 season, Rouyer willingly faced the harsh reality of playing professional sports.

“I was having a good season. I was really happy with where I was and how the team was going. I felt the family factor that we have in BC. You always want to be there for the guys. You want to help as much as you can and you want to be on the field,” Rouyer said.

“I recovered enough to play at the Western Final so that was good. I was happy about that because I wanted to show that I’m going to do everything I can to get back on the field.”

The CFL’s Global initiative has allowed players like Rouyer to explore their options in the gridiron and compete with the best players around the world. Despite being from a different country, Rouyer’s goal remains the same as every other player. He wants to help the Lions get to the Grey Cup.

“Just buy tickets. The Grey Cup is in B.C. so we are going to make everything to be there. I’m very excited because we can all go back to Kamloops and have some fun playing football again,” he added.