Bombers give rookie punter a second chance

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The Canadian Press
5/7/2013 8:31:43 PM
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The CFL is giving Billy Pavlopoulos a second lease on his football life.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers selected the former CIS punter/kicker in the seventh round, No. 54 overall, in the CFL draft Monday. The six-foot-three, 200-pound Pavlopoulos was eligible for selection despite being suspended for violating Canadian university sport's drug policy.

That's because Pavlopoulos's first positive drug offence came as an amateur while at the University of British Columbia. Had he committed the offence in another pro league, the CFL would've honoured the ban.

The CFL amended its policy following the 2006 season after Ricky Williams played for the Toronto Argonauts while under suspension by the NFL for violating its substance abuse program.

"Collaboratively with the CIS we structured our policy to make sense for both people coming into the league as well as those currently on (CFL) rosters," said Kevin McDonald, the CFL's vice-president of football operations.

Pavlopoulos made 13-of-19 field goals in 2011 and posted a 43-yard punting average -- second-best in the CIS. He also handled kickoffs, making him attractive to a CFL club because he can do all three jobs and save it a roster spot.

But Pavlopoulos tested positive Jan. 9, 2012 for stanozolol, a steroid, and received a two-year suspension. Pavlopoulos, 21, of Georgetown, Ont., didn't dispute the positive test but denied knowingly ingesting the steroid.

He said it was an unlisted ingredient in a supplement he had taken, an explanation the Bombers say they believe.

"It's a young man that maybe made a mistake -- knowingly or unknowingly -- and he said that's behind him and we believe him," Bombers GM Joe Mack said following the draft. "We had spoke to him before and afterwards and he said it was in a supplement that he didn't realize was in it and he said he won't take any supplements anymore.

"Coach Dickenson (Bombers special-teams co-ordinator Craig Dickenson) believes he has a strong leg to be able to compete so that's why we took him in the seventh round."

Stanozolol is the same steroid that was found in urine samples provided by Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson at the '88 Seoul Summer Games. As a result, Johnson was stripped of his 100-metre gold medal and world record.

Winnipeg assistant GM Kyle Walters, a former CFL player and special-teams coach, said the club spent a lot of time checking into Pavlopoulos, both as an athlete and person.

"Craig (Dickenson) and I both tried to evaluate him strictly as a punting prospect," Walters said. "When we realized he was a genuine prospect, then there was the discussion about what he went through with the banned substance.

"We did our due diligence and talked to the player and Billy took responsibility for what he did. We're pretty big on giving second chances."

In February 2012, Winnipeg signed fullback/long-snapper Jordan Matechuk, who in May 2011 was arrested at the U.S. border en route to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats camp. He later pleaded guilty to possession of steroids and marijuana and received a 90-day jail sentence.

Matechuk spent most of last season on Winnipeg's practice roster. But the Yorkton, Sask., native, who suffers from bipolar disorder and depression, also works with the Canadian Mental Health Association to raise awareness about mental-health issues.

"Jordan has made a real positive impact on a lot of peoples lives through his platform so that made it easy to make the decision to give Billy a second chance and opportunity," said Walters. "It's good to give young men a second chance and I get the impression both genuinely admit they've made a mistake and are very sorry for it."

Pavlopoulos will be allowed to play in the CFL this season if he cracks Winnipeg's roster. However because of his positive test, he'd be deemed a first-time offender of the league's drug policy and have to undergo mandatory testing.

Under terms of the CFL's drug policy, the league tests both urine and blood samples. Players are tested randomly but those with previous violations in any league must undergo mandatory testing.

A second offence results in a three-game suspension and public disclosure with a third bringing an automatic one-year ban. Any CFL player testing positive for a fourth time faces a lifetime suspension.

Pavlopoulos didn't immediately return a telephone message Tuesday but took to social media to express his appreciation to the Bombers after being drafted.

"Feel extremely blessed with the opportunity given to me by (at)Wpg--BlueBombers thank you so much... Huge day for myself and my family!!" he said on his Twitter account.

Kicker Justin Palardy and punter Mike Renaud handle Winnipeg's kicking duties. Both are CFL veterans who are acclimated to playing in the swirling winds that were the norm at Canad Inns Stadium.

Palardy, 24, entering his fourth CFL season from Saint Mary's, made 39-of-45 field goals last season and his 86.7 per cent success ratio tied his club record. The six-foot, 200-pound native of Truro, N.S., also averaged 57.3 yards on kickoffs.

Renaud, a 29-year-old Ottawa native, posted a 41.9-yard average last season after struggling late in the 2011 campaign. In 2010, Renaud was an East Division all-star.

But Renaud will face competition in camp from rookies Pavlopoulos and Brett Cameron.

"Well, we think we need some competition at the punting position," Mack said.

Cameron certainly has the right bloodlines to make a push for the job. His father, Bob, served as Winnipeg's punter for 23 seasons and appeared in a league-record 353 straight games before being inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2010.

Kicking in cold, windy conditions is certainly an adjustment Pavlopoulos will have make to crack the Bombers' roster. The good news, though, is with Winnipeg moving into brand new Investors Group Field this season, Pavlopoulos and the club's other kickers will get used to playing in the new facility together.

CFL Football (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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