VANCOUVER — Paul Orazietti came back with a lot of memories from his stint in China this past summer as an assistant coach for Canada at the World Under-19 football championships.
Yet perhaps what was most enduring for the UBC Thunderbirds’ recruiting coordinator was seeing a mean, hulking offensive lineman from Team Mexico named Diego Montoya.
“I was helping coach the offence so I didn’t see him as much,” said Orazietti, Canada’s running backs coach, “but I couldn’t help but be struck. He was a mountain.
“There were about eight other Canadian coaches there and they all recognized a kid like that is a longshot (to recruit),” he continued. “But you have to keep working on longshots because sometimes they pan out.”
Fast-forward to April 2, and the tweet issued by UBC head coach Blake Nill, which read: “Papers are in!! .. 6’-3-310lb Diego Montoya commits to @ubctbirds.”
And thus as part of a recruiting class which has brought a number of Canada’s top talent to the Point Grey campus there is a distinct international flavour in Montoya, a player Nill hopes becomes a five-year anchor along the ‘Birds offensive line.
“I think he is the No. 1 addition to the program,” the head coach said. “This kid, in my mind, is ahead of Sukh Chungh at the same age.
Chung, of course, is the 6-foot-4, 300-pounder from PoCo’s Terry Fox Secondary who played under Nill at Calgary, tried out for the New York Giants in 2015 and became a Day 1 starter for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
“Diego is mean and Diego is nasty and as soon as I met him, I called Sukh and I said to him ‘I think I just found your twin brother out of Mexico.’ Sukh still trains a lot out here so I really look forward to the two of these guys meeting.”
Of course meeting someone who has made the same professional transition he hopes to one day make will be significant for Montoya, and Orazietti says he can see a fire inside the hulking recruit that remains as big a plus-skill as his imposing frame.
“It’s just half the battle to watch a kid on film,” begins Orazietti. “The other half is getting to know him and his character. And I know this sounds corny to say, but Diego is like Rocky from the movies. He is hungry.
“You can tell he comes from a system where he knows if he wants to excel that he has to leave home,” the coach continued of Montoya who hails from Tlajomulco de Zuniga and played last season for Instituto Tecnologico de Estudios Superiores in Guadalajara.
“He is not a kid who is coming from a place where he’s been told his whole life how awesome he is. So he’s scrappy and hungry to excel and those guys are like gold because they are so easy to coach.”
And beyond the hunger is an edge.
“You see it on film,” Orazietti continues. “He finishes every block and he is quite happy to pancake a guy. He wants to physically dominate people.”
All of that is great news for rising third-year pivot Michael O’Connor, and an offensive backfield led by Ben Cummings and a host of blue-chip recruits.
Montoya is built like a guard, could play centre, but is athletic enough that he’ll get reps everywhere, including tackle, in fall camp.
The successful recruitment of Montoya also points to the quality of football being played at the collegiate level around the world.
“My eyes were opened at the Worlds,” said Orazietti of the eight-nation tournament. “You think of the U.S. and Canada, but then you start watching Austria and Mexico and Japan. The level of football is extraordinary and at its top levels, those programs are as good as Canadian university football in my mind, and by that I mean that a team of the best kids in Japan or Mexico would give any Canadian university team a good game.”
Orazietti says the easy part is that the international players don’t need a hard sell on coming to Canada.
“It’s a close second to them as the best football in the world, so you’re providing something they aspire to anyways.”
The academic and financial aspects are the other parts of the puzzle, and in the case of Montoya, all were worked out over the past eight months.
Orazietti said UBC football worked hard to ensure that Montoya could make local connections within the Mexican community in the Vancouver, adding another dimension of support as he embarks on a new life in Canada.
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