Billy Greene would have preferred to be on the field Friday night, playing in the Vanier Cup final at B.C. Place.
But two weeks after his University of British Columbia Thunderbirds (UBC) were eliminated from the CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sports) football playoffs, the Surrey native was presented with the highest honour a CIS player could receive.
Greene was named winner of the Hec Crighton Trophy, awarded annually to the best player in Canadian university football. Acadia Axemen quarterback Kyle Graves (Atlantic), Sherbrooke Vert et Or wide receiver Simon Charbonneau-Campeau (Quebec) and McMaster Marauders (Ontario) wideout Michael DiCroce were also nominated.
“It sounds amazing,” said Greene immediately after Thursday’s Gibson’s Finest CFL Player Awards at the Vancouver Convention Centre, part of Grey Cup Week. “I’ve done a lot of work with coach (Shawn) Olson for the past 18 months, since he’s been hired. He truly got me ready to be a quarterback in the CIS and I owe thanks to him for this award as well as my teammates.
“It’s a great feeling, I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Perhaps his coach summed it up best.
“This is as big as it gets,” Olson said. “It’s a huge honour and it’s something that I think every CIS player dreams about. Very few end up being nominated and even fewer have the honour of being able to say they’re a Hec Crighton winner.”
In his fourth season at UBC, Greene led the Thunderbirds to one of the quickest turnarounds in the history of the program. After a 2-6 (won-lost) season a year ago, the T-Birds placed second in the Canada West league with a 6-2 record. They upended the Saskatchewan Huskies 27-22 in a semifinal contest, before losing 62-13 to the Calgary Dinos in the championship game. The win over the Huskies was the first postseason triumph by UBC since 1999.
Greene set single-season school records with 20 touchdown passes and 2,558 passing yards, both totals leading the country. The six-foot, 220-pound graduate of Holy Cross High School also topped all CIS quarterbacks with 482 yards rushing.
“I’m very happy for Billy, because he took a big step this off-season as far as the work that he put in,” said Olson, who is also a Surrey native. “It’s always good to see a guy rewarded for the amount of work he puts in and to see a player start to fulfill his potential.”
With Greene at the helm, the Thunderbirds offence ranked second in passing with an average of 326 yards per game, and fourth in overall offence with 471 yards per game.
“I play the quarterback position like I would play running back or any other position,” said Greene “I play it as a football player. I don’t view myself as a quarterback, although obviously I am. But you can say I play like (Denver Broncos quarterback Tim) Tebow. I don’t slide, I run the ball. If I’m running the ball I’m a running back. If I’m dropping back, I’m a quarterback.”
Greene is the third T-Bird to win the Hec Crighton Trophy, after running back Mark Nohra in 1997 and quarterback Jordan Gagner in 1987, and he recognizes its significance to UBC football.
“For our program, this is huge,” he said. “Anytime you can get exposure in the media or around town, it will help coach Olson with recruiting.
“His job is to put a winner on the field, and I think this will help him do that for years to come.”