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As a sports fan, it’s easy to believe that every player follows the same path to the pros. While most NFL players move from high school to college and end up in the big show, not every career unfolds that way. Just look at Tennessee Titans linebacker Cameron Wake.

While he played for a bigtime NCAA program, Wake didn’t immediately find success in the NFL. He actually headed north of the border to develop in the Canadian Football League, setting the stage for his rise to stardom.

Cameron Wake’s road to Canada

Cameron Wake grew up in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. He played high school football and earned an athletic scholarship to Penn State. Despite his time with the Nittany Lions, he wasn’t invited to the NFL scouting combine.

Wake worked out at Penn State’s Pro Day but went unselected in the 2005 NFL draft. He signed a deal with the New York Giants; two months later, the team released him. Facing an early end to his football career, Wake decided to make a move. He headed to Canada, signing with the CFL’s BC Lions.

The BC coaching staff switched Wake to defensive end, and he immediately made an impact. He piled up 72 total tackles, 16 sacks, and a blocked field goal during his first year in Canada, earning both Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors. The next year, Wake increased his production to 23 sacks and was unanimously named the Most Outstanding Defensive Player.

At that point, NFL teams simply couldn’t ignore Wake any longer.

Transitioning to the NFL

After the 2008 CFL season wrapped up, Cameron Wake started fielding calls from NFL teams. Rather than rushing into a decision, however, the linebacker took his time. As a free agent, he wanted to take advantage of his freedom to choose the right team.

Wake chose the Miami Dolphins and signed a four-year contract. “I wanted to eliminate all the fluff,” Wake explained. “It wasn’t about whoever offered the biggest deal. It was about the coaching staffs, the opportunity, the organizations. Miami put themselves above the others in those things even if it wasn’t by much.”

The move paid off. Wake burst onto the NFL scene and recorded 5.5 sacks in his first American season. The next year, that number would jump to 14. Despite suffering an Achilles injury in 2015, Wake returned with a vengeance, playing his way into the 2018 NFL Top 100 ratings.

Prior to the 2019 season, Wake signed a contract with the Tennessee Titans. He’s recorded 2.5 sacks so far this season, pushing him over the 100 mark for his NFL career.

Remembering the CFL

While Cameron Wake has officially made it as an NFL player, he hasn’t forgotten the league that helped him break into the professional game.

We just finished up a workout, and I put my slippers, my shower shoes, on. They have the CFL logo on them. It reminds me every day of how different it was,” he told Bleacher Report in 2015. “The facilities were…you just can’t compare them. The meal room we have here compared to the one in the CFL—it was more like a counter with bread and cereal. In the CFL, you do your own laundry. Convenience-wise, it’s so different, and that ingrained a value in me. The gym down the street from our facility was better than what we had. We had maybe one squat rack. But you appreciate it because it was the way it was. All the things guys take for granted, you have to do on your own. Guys would have to get together themselves to go run hills or work out.”

On the field, the Canadian Football League gave Cameron Wake a chance to hone his craft and prove that he could play at the highest level. Off the field, however, his time north of the border gave him extra motivation to succeed. When you combine those two factors, it’s no wonder that he’s built himself an impressive NFL career.