Undersized centre gets big chance

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When the Canadian Football League draft passed without his name being called, Andrew Peirson felt the door to playing professional football had closed on him.

Two days later, however, the British Columbia Lions came calling on Peirson, who played high school football with the Holy Cross Crusaders.

“The draft [on May 3] happened and nothing came about,” the 23-year-old Peirson said. “Two days later I got a call saying, ‘How would you like to be a B.C. Lion,’ and I absolutely lost it.”

Peirson has survived the early Lions cuts — CFL teams have to be down to 46 players with a 10-player practice squad by June 9 — going into Friday’s exhibition game at B.C. Place in Vancouver. The six-foot-two, 300-pound offensive lineman is listed at second on the depth chart at centre.

“There’s a decent chance [of playing], but who knows. I just take one day at a time and control what I can control. Work hard and see where the cards fall,” Peirson said.

“Either way I’m just happy with the whole process and extremely grateful I got this opportunity.”

Peirson has persisted in a never-say-die trail of chasing his dream to play in the CFL. He played at Holy Cross for Tim Pendergast and Tim Hunter and for the Limestone District Grenadiers. He went to a football academy school in St. Catharines in his victory lap year to be better positioned for a college football opportunity.

Some Canadian universities were interested — the University of British Columbia, St. Francis Xavier, Western and Calgary — but Peirson opted to go to Gannon University, a relatively small Division II school in Erie, Pa., and was a starter for his last of three years with the Golden Hawks.

Peirson didn’t play at all in his first year, moved into a part-time role in his second year before becoming a starter by his third year.

“It took a year for me to get my feet wet. I had to really focus on being the person I needed to be physically, athletically and academically,” Peirson said. “After that [first year], I kind of found my spot.”

Peirson’s unselfish move to play defence in his draft year, to make up for a lack of depth at the nose tackle position, was at the team’s request.

“I was asked to take one for the team. Kind of be a team player and step in to defence,” Peirson said. “I learned a lot that I apply to playing the offensive line now. I understand defensive schemes, which I value now.”

Peirson came to the attention of the Lions at a regional combines workout in Montreal prior to the draft. He felt good about his chances of being drafted but was realistic, too.

“Some of the mock drafts had me going late, so I was kind of optimistic. But I knew I was an undersized offensive lineman from a D2 school, so the cards were kind of against me,” Peirson said.

The Lions drafted two Canadian linemen, in the first and third rounds, but still had some interest in Peirson, who signed as a free agent.

“I was kind of an extra they’d like to have. I talked to Montreal a lot and thought that might have been in the cards, but I’m happy to be in B.C. It’s been awesome so far,” Peirson said.

The Lions will break training camp in Kamloops and drive to Vancouver on Thursday.

Cody Husband, the Lions’ most outstanding lineman nominee last year, was at centre for the Lions’ first exhibition game, a 36-23 win over Calgary. Florida native Phillip Norman was the other centre dressed.

Peirson will find out Thursday if he is on the 44-man roster for Friday’s game. Each game, 21 Canadians must be part of the roster.

“It’s been good. All the guys here are great guys and picking up on things,” Peirson said.

“I consider myself undersized but I make do. You can beat people no matter what your size is on good technique. That’s kind of what I have been going with.”