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Cotey: A choice for the best
Billy Peach moved to Florida in the spring and enrolled at Largo. For coach Rick Rodriguez and the Packers, it was perfect timing.
By JOHN C. COTEY
Published December 5, 2007
LARGO - It was March.
Rick Rodriguez, sitting in a worn-out office with spring football looming, was scanning his roster and trying to figure out who exactly would play at right tackle.
Billy Peach, sitting in a Redington Beach coffee shop while lattes flowed like honey behind him, was scanning his school choice form trying to figure out exactly which school he would attend.
Fate, milling about and messing around like it usually does, was conspiring to put the two on a collision course.
"Almost went to Seminole," said Peach, at the time a newly minted Floridian by way of Ontario.
Ultimately, more so than fate, it was the owner of the coffee shop - a family friend and fellow Canadian with a bit of high school football knowledge - who leaned over and tapped Peach on the shoulder.
"Largo," he said, "is where you want to go if you're going to play football."
A week later, all 6-5, 290 pounds of Peach and his father - highlight tape in hand - walked into the Largo weight room and introduced themselves to Rodriguez.
Seminole went 0-10 this season. Largo is 13-0 and playing in the biggest game in school history Friday night against Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas.
"That was a close call," Peach said.
And not just for the player.
"If he hadn't showed up, we would have been in trouble," Rodriguez said.
At the time, he and his staff were debating whether to start a sophomore at right tackle, arguably the most important position in the Packers' I-formation power running attack, or moving starting center Travis Feldman over.
Neither move excited coaches.
Peach, however, did.
"I'm not sure we would have won every game if he wasn't here," Rodriguez said.
Peach's road to Largo is a long one: about 1,430 miles, by bike and skates.
He was once ranked No. 1 in Ontario among 7- and 8-year-old BMX riders.
After he moved on to hockey, he scored 31 goals as a right wing one season, camping his massive frame in front of the net and flicking in rebounds, dreaming of being the next Doug Gilmour.
But as a 13-year-old, he was 6 feet, 310 pounds and his hockey career was over.
"They said I could try out for football," Peach said, "and I fell in love."
Had weightlifting been emphasized at Frontenac Secondary School in Kingston, Ontario, when he was a freshman, or "if we had him from the get-go," says Rodriguez, the coach is convinced a steady diet of Florida football would have made Peach a well-known recruit.
"I wasn't here my junior year, and that's when most of the recruiting happens," Peach said. "I'm still hoping to get noticed."
Rodriguez said Bucknell called Tuesday, asking about Peach. He expects more calls.
Three years ago, Peach was visiting family when he and some friends attended the Pinellas County Senior All-Star Game. He sat in the stands at Largo.
"I thought it sure would be cool to play in that game."
He would have gotten his chance this year as one of the game's selections, but can't play because Largo won't lose.
On the way to realizing one dream, he discovered an even better one.
If you go
Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas (12-1) at Largo (13-0)
At stake: A berth in the 5A state final Dec. 14 at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando
TV: Catch 47 will broadcast Friday's game live.
Tickets: $7. No advance sales. The ticket booth at the school will open at 6 p.m. on Friday.