Cameron Valardo is giving himself one final chance to prolong a dream football career that’s been unlikely, from the start, for a backup quarterback who started just one game for the Saint Mary’s Huskies.
The native of Fall River, N.S. has signed a contract with the Ystad Rockets football team in southern Sweden.
The Signal met Valardo, in late February, during an offseason workout on an icy Cole Harbour All Weather Field. The 6’0”, 229-pound pivot spent about 90 minutes throwing footballs to two receivers, and talked about his excitement for the upcoming season.
However, as the sun began to set on his late-afternoon practice session, Valardo said the same might soon happen to his career.
“If this is my last season, I want to make the most of it,” said Valardo, 25, who is playing through a torn knee ligament. “With this new team (Ystad) offering me a fresh professional opportunity, I can’t help but want to perform my best to make some great memories to look back on.”
Valardo retired from college football in 2019, without knowing his next move, following two seasons as a Huskies reserve. His love for the sport sagged while he worked as a financial adviser. He coached high school football players and trained as a powerlifter while continuing to study history at SMU. Valardo recalled the difficulty in leaving behind the sport he had loved since childhood.
Self promotion pays off
In late 2019 Valardo gave the gridiron one last shot, creating a profile on a scouting website called europlayers.com. Les Ours de Toulouse, in France’s Championnat Élite Divison 1, came calling and Valardo signed up for their 2020 campaign.
“That first season was great,” he said. “Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, we only played three games, but that really sparked my love for the game again.”
The coronavirus completely wiped out the 2021 season in France’s top league but Valardo re-signed with Toulouse when play resumed in 2022.
He left France following the 2022 season after the team changed coaches and switched to a run-dominant offence that didn’t suit the Canadian’s style of play. Valardo said he chose the Rockets of the Swedish league because of their pass-heavy attack that favours his long ball over the top.
American football in Europe has grown in popularity over the last decade. As of 2023 there are 40 different competitive leagues across 34 European countries. Most teams across the continent use fields that were not made for the sport; they’re mostly rugby and soccer pitches with bleachers no bigger than the ones in SMU’s Huskies Stadium.
The North American advantage
Valardo and other North Americans who grew up with football have an advantage over European athletes, former SMU offensive coordinator AJ Tufford told The Signal. Tufford coached Valardo during both of the quarterback’s years at SMU. Tufford also coached pro football in Austria and France.
“In North America when you reach the high school or college level, there’s a broad pool of players that understand how the game works and understand the playbook,” said Tufford. “For European athletes, many of them are learning those basic things at the beginning of their professional careers, as they grew up playing soccer or basketball.”
Tufford used his European connections to help Valardo land his French contract and recalled the satisfaction of watching his former pupil in person.
“I got to get over there and see him play a game in the 2022 season against Grenoble, so that was really nice.”
As Valardo prepared to fly to Sweden he reflected on what could be his last ride as a pro athlete.
“The future is looking short, I can see the 19th hole,” he said.
A career in finance might be around the corner but for now Valardo will be paid to deploy his rocket arm for the Rockets.