What was a struggling football program at the University of British Columbia (UBC) has made a bit of a turnaround, with a number of local players having significant roles.
The UBC Thunderbirds defeated the University of Alberta Golden Bears 40-30 in a Canada West league game Saturday afternoon at Thunderbird Stadium, their second win in three games this season after winning just five in 24 starts over the previous three years.
Holy Cross High School graduate Billy Greene earned Player of the Game honours for the ’Birds. The 6’1” 220-pound quarterback from Surrey completed 21 of 27 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran the ball eight times for 108 yards and one major score.
“Our receivers made some big catches for me,” said Greene after the game. “I put the ball in a position for us to make catches. And our running game was awesome today.”
One of Greene’s scoring strikes was to Spencer Betts. The two worked well together even before wearing the UBC blue-and-gold. With both playing as Grade 12s for Holy Cross in the 2007 B.C. high school Senior AAA championship game at B.C. Place, quarterback Greene hit Betts for touchdown passes of 90, 83 and 11 yards in the first half. Holy Cross went on to defeat the St. Thomas More Knights 49-19.
To date this season with UBC, Greene has completed 65 of 96 pass attempts for 857 yards and eight touchdowns. He leads the Canada West league in passing efficiency, passing yardage, and touchdown passes.
Betts contributes in two ways to the Thunderbirds offence. The 5’11” 190-pound receiver has caught nine passes for 78 yards and a touchdown. He also returns punts, doing so 20 times for 128 yards, fourth-best in Canada West.
But the two Holy Cross graduates aren’t the only local connection at UBC.
Seaquam Secondary graduate Joey Gabrick, a 6’4” 240-pound running back, has caught five passes for 45 yards and a touchdown.
North Delta Secondary graduate Chris Mark, a 6’5” 220-pound defensive back, is ranked ninth on the team with four solo tackles and nine assisted tackles. He also has the lone interception by a T-Birds player this season.
And former Seaquam Seahawk Alex Babalos has made eight solo tackles and five assisted tackles from his defensive back position, sixth-best among UBC defenders.
But perhaps the biggest impact has been that of head coach Shawn Olson, a former Surrey Ram of the B.C. Junior Football League who went on to lead the T-Birds to a Vanier Cup in 1997.
Currently in his second season as head coach at the University of British Columbia, Olson has his team in a three-way tie for second place in the six-team Canada West league.