The road to the Canadian Football League for American-born players is hardly ever straightforward. Many arrive having never travelled outside the U.S., knowing little about the Canadian game and even less about the city they’ve been signed to.
But as unpredictable as many journeys are for those who venture north of the border to play football, how Zavian Bingham found himself in Winnipeg might certainly rival any other for the most unusual of circumstances.
Bingham, who is one of 47 players at Bombers’ mini-camp, which began Tuesday and runs through Thursday at Investors Group Field, was a player the Bombers have wanted to see in their uniform for more than a year. He first fell onto the team’s radar during a workout by the team’s scouting staff in Jackson, Miss., early in 2017.
After his standout performance, Danny McManus, the Bombers’ assistant general manager in charge of U.S. scouting, made sure to keep in touch. Not thinking any other team was aware of the versatile defensive back, the Bombers didn’t think it was necessary to put him on their negotiation list — a list of 45 players a team can “protect” by adding them to the list, which then gives them first right to negotiate a contract — and instead moved straight to working on signing him to a contract.
But right before he could put pen to paper, the Saskatchewan Roughriders swooped in and added Bingham to their negotiation list, meaning he was no longer able to sign with another team.
“The day I was going to sign with Winnipeg my agent had something going with (Roughriders) coach (Chris) Jones and the next thing I knew I was in Saskatchewan,” said Bingham, 25. “I didn’t have a problem being in Saskatchewan because they are some great guys out there but I still felt like the best fit for me was here.”
It would seem convenient for Bingham to say such things now, if it weren’t for the reasons for why he appreciates being in Winnipeg.
After having one of the best performances among the group at Roughriders mini-camp last year, and then proving more than capable at the main training camp, a third-degree tear of a medial collateral ligament (MCL) before the regular season led to his release. Months later, the Bombers reached out to see how his recovery was going.
“I got a call and they had seen that I was cut and wanted to know if I was healthy. I said I wasn’t 100 per cent but I was about 85,” said Bingham.
The Bombers flew him in but when he arrived at the airport there were issues clearing customs. Feeling overwhelmed by the trouble, Bingham said he suddenly felt a calm come over him when he was notified a number of the Bombers coaches were at the airport to help clear things up. Soon after, he was allowed into the country.
“I couldn’t believe that for little ol’ me they were taking time to help me out,” he said. “That made me feel some type of way about the coaches and like the coaches preach every day it’s about respect. That really stuck with me.”
Once settled, he was put through the paces, only for it become clear his knee wasn’t strong enough to play at a high level. It was then the Bombers “offered him a favour” by letting him stick around on the practice roster and then promised to have him back this year for mini-camp.
“I’ll never forget these were the first guys to show me love before I even knew who I really was,” he said.
To return the favour, Bingham hopes to prove to the Bombers that he was worth the time and energy the team has put into him. He considers himself a nice fit to a secondary that loves taking the ball away and is looking forward to the chance to show what he can do.
“He’s in our building now and he seems to have made some plays through the first two practices, and seems to fly around and seems to communicate,” said Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea. “He’s doing a lot of the things we’ve asked him to do.”