CFL champion with CBN roots recounts football journey
Billy Peach’s family always made a point of returning to Newfoundland every summer after they moved to Ontario in the early 90s.
Now an offensive lineman and Grey Cup champion with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League, Billy would spend his time with relatives in St. John’s, Salmon Cove and Carbonear.
It was then he would take part in an activity as Newfoundland as the province itself. Billy, his great uncle Arthur and grandfather Bill spent many an afternoon in the middle of the bay jigging codfish. “We did all of that stuff,” said Billy. Jigging was mixed in with trips to Salmon Cove Sands and various landmarks in the area where his grandmother owned a house directly across from the popular summer destination.
Peach was born in St. John’s in 1990 and his family lived in Clarke’s Beach, where his father Jim owned a Thruway Muffler shop. In 1994, he moved to Kingston, Ont.
Admittedly, Billy has little memory of his time in Conception Bay North, but that doesn’t diminish his love for the place he briefly called home.
“We always visited Newfoundland,” said Billy.
A love for pigskin
Billy was an all-around athlete growing up in Ontario. He played everything you could imagine and was even a top-ranked BMX rider in North America as an eight-year-old.
“I was No.1 in Canada and won some cups as a kid,” said Billy.
However, it was football that really took hold. He excelled at the sport and quickly became accustomed to the battles fought along the offensive line.
Billy played the centre position for the Grade 9 junior squad at Frontenac Secondary School in Kingston, before anchoring the offensive line two years later in Grade 11.
At that point he was a mammoth 6-foot-fourinches and 295 pounds and working towards a full athletic scholarship to a post-secondary institution.
“I just loved football,” said Billy.
Friday night lights
After starting in the provincial final in Grade 11, Peach changed schools and countries in advance of his senior year of high school.
In 2006, he packed up and moved 2,200 kilometres south to Largo, Florida, where he played for the Largo High School Packers.
“It was kind of my dream,” said Billy. “The whole ‘Friday Night Lights’ thing.”
High school football is a passion for many in the States, where thousands of rabid fans will happily pack themselves into a stadium on a Friday night to see high school teams compete.
“It is life down there,” said Billy.
With the Packers, he was named a county all-star and accepted a full ride to Division 1-AA Jacksonville University.
While there, Billy helped his team to a pair of Pioneer Football League championships (2008, 2010) and helped the offence rank second in the country in yards per game with 396.4.
It was then he started hearing whispers about playing professional football. There were mostly inquiries from the CFL.
Billy had a good source of information when it came to the CFL draft and professional football in Canada. His coach at Jacksonville was former CFL and NFL quarterback Kerwin Bell.
“I started training for it,” he said. “I was kind of groomed into it.”
In 2012, he was a third round (19th overall) draft selection for the Stampeders.
Becoming a champion
While he got into a handful of games with Calgary during his rookie season in 2013, a thumb injury delayed the start of his 2014 campaign.
Billy missed the first six weeks of the season. When he came back, he was placed on the team’s practice roster.
There he would run the other opponent’s offence to help his team prepare and he wouldn’t dress for games
Still, he was on the field when the Stampeders met the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the 102nd Grey Cup in November. “It was a pretty amazing experience,” said Billy. He said it was rewarding to watch his team defeat Hamilton 20-16 to claim the coveted trophy. He had helped his team prepare all week for the contest.
“It was a family community,” said Billy of the Stampeders organization.
When the final horn sounded, the 24-year-old stormed the field with the rest of his teammates, took part in the celebrations and will receive a Grey Cup ring.
“It was pretty cool,” said Billy.
Billy Peach (left) with teammate Max Caron moments after the Calgary Stampeders’ victory in the 102nd Grey Cup at B.C. Place in Vancouver, B.C., in November 2014.