'Nucks in a row

Former general manager and head coach of the Edmonton Eskimos, Tom Higgins, is introduced as the...

Former general manager and head coach of the Edmonton Eskimos, Tom Higgins, is introduced as the head coach of the Calgary Stampeders in Calgary, January 14, 2005. (SUN/Darren Makowichuk)

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:12 PM ET

Some football fans may overlook the significance of homegrown talent in the CFL. But successful teams certainly don't, argues Tom Higgins, Calgary Stampeders head coach/senior vice-president of football operations.

The Canadian college draft, he insists, is an important date on the calendar.

"The teams that are successful pay particular attention to the significance of it and I believe most CFL teams do," notes Higgins, who played with or against some of the most talented Canucks to ever strap on a helmet in Canada.

"It's just not something that has the pizzazz or sparkle of an NFL draft or a National Hockey League draft. But it is as important to the success of a franchise as are any of those drafts.

"There are so many good Canadians but a lot of times you don't think of them as Canadians, just good football players."

Higgins, a New Jersey native trained at North Carolina State, was himself an import linebacker with the Red and White in 1976.

He quickly realized many Canadian players were as good as any migrating north from the States.

"The first one who comes to mind is (offensive lineman) Lloyd Fairbanks, longevity-wise," Higgins suggests.

"(Offensive-lineman) Miles Gorrell fits into that category, too, and (kicker) Lui Passaglia was as good as they get and fits that category."

Higgins played with Calgary-born receiver Tom Forzani, a Utah State product and three-time all-Canadian at wide receiver (1973, '74 and '77).

Forzani posted the second-most career receiving yards in Stampeders history despite playing during one of the team's weakest eras while also suiting up alongside brothers John and Joe.

"Tom Forzani was in an elite category," Higgins recalls.

"I always thought it was odd to have a little receiver and then your brother John is an offensive lineman.

"The only one I didn't play with was Joe.

"Tom was special. He had great hands and he excelled in the NCAA and was in a lot of all-star games.

"That's where had a chance to prove that he was an elite young man in the country at that time."

As an American playing in Canada, who later returned to coach here, Higgins has seen the CFL's non-import situation from several angles.

"A lot of times, players just say he's a good player or not a good player," Higgins suggests.

"It's discriminatory to say, 'He's a good Canadian.' No, he's a good football player. There's been a bunch over the years and there will continue to be a bunch."


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