KAMLOOPS — It all started with a Facebook ad for a local contact football team in Latvia looking for new players. Now Karlis Brauns is a professional football player for the BC Lions.
Brauns was selected third overall in the 2022 CFL World Draft last Tuesday. After crossing the pond, the 6-foot-4, 270-pound defensive lineman has now settled into his dorm at Thompson Rivers University, ready to represent his home in Riga, Latvia.
“I always had this idea that I liked football. But that’s not really where I come from in Riga. There’s barely a team, barely holding on. I just remembered to have attended a few practices and I fell in love with it,” recalls Brauns.
He knew staying home wasn’t going to help him become a better player. Brauns then began to explore options like in Germany, the hub of American football in Europe, where the first trace of NFL Europe was seen in the 1990s.
“I think I was 21 or 22 when I started playing. I was still studying. I was working on some kind of software startup but I started playing football. I didn’t think about anything anymore, I just wanted to train for football,” he recalls.
“I wasn’t going to go anywhere and any coaching I wanted. The next stop was Serbia, I went there because one of our coaches went there. I had a connection there and played for free. In the same year, I also went to Finland to play in the second division and won a championship there.
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Brauns played in several countries such as Serbia, Finland, Germany and recently played for the Poland-based Wroclaw Panthers, before finally getting to perform in front of NFL teams and winning a trip to the College Gridiron Showcase in Fort Worth, TX.
“I’ve been trying to get out of Europe for a few years because I kind of do the same thing and get the same results. I made a plan that I needed to go train in the United States. I had to borrow a lot of money to do it,” Brauns said.
“I bet on myself this offseason and (it) looks like if I was the third overall pick in the world draft, I think it paid off, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Football with tackle being a niche sport in Latvia, Brauns thought back to his school days when he described himself as a lanky kid who played different sports. But everything changed when he discovered football.
“I was not tall. I was tall but I weighed less than 225 pounds. I did rowing in high school. Before that, I played football, and a little ice hockey, nothing serious. But with football, I was like, ‘OK, I like being a defensive line, what can I do to get stronger and faster?’ »
Brauns then molded himself into similar physical form to three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year JJ Watt.
“He was making these crazy games and having great seasons. I would watch how he uses his power and movement to get to the quarterback. But with the defensive line, there is not just one player. Every great player has different techniques, so I just try to learn something from them,” Brauns said.
The avid defensive lineman was willing to work for every penny to bump his shoulders into the grill. He worked in several jobs and industries where he could earn enough money to pursue football.
After working in security, small airline cabin crew, real estate consultant, human resources and freelance web graphic design, Brauns said those jobs were only meant to fill the gaps he needed to fuel his passion.
“It was about talking to people and making connections. It has always been easy for me. The design part is kind of my other passion. It’s probably the second most fun thing I’ve done in years,” he added.
When Brauns was ready to play professional football, the people he was closely associated with already knew that he was quite stubborn. Now that the NFL’s international program and the overall vision of the CFL are beginning to grow, the gate’s thin crease is enough for players like Brauns to challenge themselves.
“I’ve never heard strict comments, but I guess everyone thinks it’s very weird and crazy. Back then, there were no CFL and NFL internationals, everyone was like, ‘OK man, good luck with that.’ But now there are a few guys, although it’s still not a clear path,” he said.
It’s a dream come true for Brauns, as he took the field for the first time with his fellow rookies on Wednesday, May 11. He is surrounded by players with the same mindset as him – 100% football.
“I can’t wait to participate in this competition. I look forward to the coaching. I mean I’m away from my family and friends and I’ve played for many different teams elsewhere,” he said. “But I feel like I’m at home when I’m in a football environment. I expect to go out there and feel my best all the time.