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E-Camp: UBC Thunderbirds’ star QB Billy Greene may go from Hec Crighton winner to CFL fullback

UBC QB Billy Greene runs with the ball against Calgary in 2011.

If you're a quarterback who's named Canadian Interuniversity Sport's top player, that suggests you're pretty good at the position. That's certainly the case for 2011 Hec Crighton Trophy winner Billy Greene; although his UBC Thunderbirds' impressive season has been retroactively erased from history over another player's eligibility issues, what he accomplished still is quite remarkable. Greene led all CIS pivots with 2558 passing yards during the regular season on the year and put up an impressive 319.8 yards per game, a solid 8.9 yards per attempt and a remarkable 20:4 touchdown to interception ratio. Despite all that, though, when CFL scouts are watching Greene at the league's E-Camp Saturday, a reliable source has informed me that he's likely to be considered not as a quarterback, but as a fullback. That speaks to the hurdles Canadian quarterbacks face in trying to crack the CFL, and it's suggestive that there's still a bias about what positions Canadians can play.

Of course, this comes with a few qualifications. For one, better to be considered for the CFL as a fullback than not considered at all. Mathieu Bertrand is one of the most famous to follow that path, going from a star quarterback at Laval (where he was twice named Quebec MVP and nominated for the Hec Crighton, and where he led the Rouge et Or to the 2003 Vanier Cup) to a very successful fullback for the Edmonton Eskimos. Bertrand has survived all the roster turmoil in Edmonton thus far, and he's turned into a key figure in the backfield for the Eskimos, keeping Ricky Ray upright and paving the way for higher-profile running backs like Jerome Messam. Bertrand's career is certainly nothing to be ashamed of, and if Greene's able to replicate that, more power to him.

Bertrand isn't the only Canadian quarterback to take up another position in the pros, either. Another example is Marc-Olivier Brouillette, a CIS quarterback with the Montreal Carabins who's overcome incredible adversity to become a special-teams star with the Alouettes, and may be in contention for an increased role in their crowded linebacking corps as well. It's also not a new phenomenon: three-time Hec Crighton winner and 2011 Canadian Football Hall of Fame inductee Chris Flynn had to practice as a quarterback in the morning and a receiver in the afternoon during his brief CFL career, and never got much of a shot at either spot. While the CFL's refusal to give Flynn a real shot at quarterback meant he didn't have a long pro career, the positional switch has paid off for players like Bertrand and Brouillette, and that's a credit to their versatility. Greene's hoping to be seen as a quarterback, but he seems open to a potential position switch, so he may make a CFL impact even if he doesn't wind up under centre.

It's just worth wondering what would have happened if Bertrand, Brouillette, Flynn and others had been given a chance to play their natural position in the CFL, and if Greene will get a shot to do that. The ongoing lack of a rule change to allow Canadian quarterbacks to count as non-imports like every other position suggests he probably won't. Of course, he's not the only aspiring Canadian CFL quarterback out there, and players like Brad Sinopoli (drafted last year by Calgary) and Kyle Quinlan (who didn't play a full season last year thanks to legal issues that were recently resolved with a conditional discharge, but put up incredible stats when he did) may have an edge on Greene based on what they've accomplished so far.

Make no mistake, though; Greene is a talented quarterback who's proved himself at the university level. As Duane Forde noted, it certainly would have helped if teams (looking at you, B.C.!) had invited him to training camps as an underclassman, but they didn't, so Greene has to stand on his college resume. You'd think being named Canadian university football's top player might be enough to get a few teams to think about what you can do at your natural position, but maybe the anti-Canadian quarterback blinders haven't yet fallen. It's looking like if we see Greene in the pros, it may be as a fullback trying to keep some American quarterback upright. From this corner, the hope is that he'll get a real look as a quarterback, but that hope may prove to be in vain.

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