Max Parkinson is getting up to speed with the Thunder and Roughriders

Kayle Neis/Regina Leader-Post Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive lineman Max Parkinson (78) stands on the field during practice at Mosaic Stadium on Wednesday, August 16, 2023 in Regina.

by Taylor Shire

Regina Leader-Post

Max Parkinson has been learning on the fly after flying to learn.

Parkinson, who was born in London, England, is playing football for the first time in Canada this season with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Regina Thunder.

The 22-year-old defensive lineman is currently a member of the Riders’ practice roster, while also practicing and playing for the Thunder, who are set to host the Winnipeg Rifles on Sunday at Leibel Field (1 p.m.) in Regina’s home opener.

“It’s been intense, obviously as you can imagine,” said Parkinson. “More than anything, it’s a good learning experience.

“I get both sides of it — the professional side obviously and then bringing all the tools I get from here (with the Riders) to the Thunder.”

And the Thunder — who are off to a 2-0 start in the Prairie Football Conference this season — have benefitted from having Parkinson, who is one of two players on Regina’s team from outside of North America. This year, for the first time ever, Canadian Junior Football League teams are permitted to roster four International players, with two of them being American.

Receiver Isaiah Woodley and defensive back Elijah Norris are the two Americans, while Parkinson and Swedish receiver River Kromnow are the two global players.

“It’s a great exchange,” said Thunder head coach Scott MacAulay. “We have guys developing relationships with guys from Sweden and the U.K. and also the United States.

“It will provide opportunities for our players to go play there afterwards.”

And while Parkinson has been enjoying his first football season in Canada, he’s still learning the sport.

After playing soccer and rugby growing up, the 6-foot-2, 276-pounder made the switch to “American football” one year ago. Last season, he played for the University of West England Bullets, racking up 43 tackles and 9.5 sacks in nine games, while also winning a national championship.

His strong play was noticed by the CFL as Parkinson was invited to the 2023 CFL Global Combine, where he led all participants (Global and National) with 29 reps on the 225-pound bench press. He also led all defensive linemen by clocking 4.74 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

However, after going unselected in the CFL Global Draft, the opportunity to join the Riders’ practice roster while also playing for the Thunder was presented to him.

“It was a no-brainer, I felt like it was something like I had to do,” said Parkinson.

So, he packed his bags and moved to Regina, where he was welcomed with open arms by the Thunder.

“Max is a physical specimen,” said MacAulay. “Him practicing with the Saskatchewan Roughriders is going to allow him to perfect his craft more.

“He’s only played a year of football so it gives him an opportunity to work on his fundamental skill sets and also increase his football IQ.”

And Parkinson has been feeling the support from the junior football club.

“They’ve been great,” said Parkinson. “Sorted out everything from my travel, my accommodation, all of that.

“Made me really feel at home.”

The football field is also starting to feel like home for Parkinson despite his limited time playing the sport.

But he’s already seeing his hard work pay off.

“I spent my whole life playing soccer and rugby and within a year, I’ve made more progression than I have in either of those sports,” said Parkinson. “It’s clearly the right place for me to be right now, I just need to keep proving myself.

“I’m hoping to keep this train going. I don’t want to stop anytime soon.”