CFL cham­pion with CBN roots re­counts foot­ball jour­ney

The Compass - - SPORTS - BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER nmercer@cb­n­com­

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.

Sub­mit­ted photo

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.

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