Dan McCullough of the British Columbia Lions is this year's winner of the Myer and Jack Budovich Trophy as Fredericton's athlete of the year. He'll accept the award at the 20th annual Fredericton Sports Wall of Fame induction ceremonies and banquet on Saturday.

McCullough humbled to snap up award
Budovitch Award | CFLer home to accept award as top local athlete Saturday

By Bill Hunt

Dan McCullough thought it was a joke.

The 28-year-old Fredericton native will be in a suit - and somewhat out of his element - Saturday night when he steps forward to accept the Myer and Jack Budovitch Award as Fredericton's athlete of the year for 2010.

It's part of the 20th annual Fredericton Sports Wall of Fame celebration, an evening that will have something of a football theme as Terry McIntyre - whom McCullough refers to as "The Godfather of Football" in Fredericton - is enshrined as part of the induction class.

The other honourees that evening include the Ecole Sainte-Anne girls volleyball teams from the early 1980s that won New Brunswick Interscholastic Athletic Association A, AA and AAA titles; ECHL commissioner Brian McKenna, a Fredericton native; longtime FHS women's basketball coach Steve O'Rourke; the late Roy "Hammy" Kitchen, who managed softball and hockey teams in Fredericton in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, and multi-sport athlete Pat Dobie.

Longtime volunteer Kim Hepditch will accept the Bill MacGillivary award as Fredericton's sports volunteer of the year as well.

McCullough, the six-foot-three, 240-pound long snapper with the Canadian Football League's B.C. Lions, is humbled to be in the company of such luminaries, and to be accepting the award as Fredericton's top athlete.

"I had no idea that I was even being considered," said the affable giant. "You look at previous winners like Marianne Limpert...she's an Olympic medallist. To be even mentioned in the same sentence is kind of phenomenal."

McCullough, who works in Fort MacMurray, Alta., in the off-season - the idea is to accumulate as much money as possible so he can return to Fredericton whenever his professional football career ends - said he got an email from his mom telling him he had been selected by a panel of Fredericton sports media.

"At first I thought "OK, is this some kind of a cruel early April Fool's joke or something?" he said. "But it turned out that it was true."

McCullough has quietly forged a pretty good professional career. He appeared in all 18 games with the Lions last season as a long snapper and signed a new contract with the club in the off season. He came to the game relatively late - he was a 13-year-old Grade 8 student who accompanied his best friend to practice one day and was convinced to try out.

The man who did the convincing? One Terry McIntyre. McCullough won't mind sharing the spotlight Saturday night.

"Honestly, it means more than a lot of people would know," said McCullough. "I wouldn't even be dreaming of where I am today if it wasn't for a guy like him. He was the first football coach I ever had, but honestly, the relationship only started there. I honestly didn't know two things about it. I just kind of showed up one day and I fell in love with it right away and never looked back really."

What appealed to McCullough most was "the violent aspect of it," he laughed. "It sounds a little sadistic, but flying around and hitting people and being hit...I think that was kind of the thing that kept me in it."

It paid off in a fine football career at Fredericton High School which saw the team retire his number last year, a five-year stint at Bishops University in Lennoxville, Que., and now a good career on the west coast.

"I have bigger expectations for myself this year," said the 28-year-old veteran. "You always have the dream of getting on the field on defence. I'm a defensive player and that's what I want to do. But you just go to camp and see how everything plays out."

As a Maritimer and the only native New Brunswicker in the CFL, McCullough will watch Atlantic Bowl II, the Sept. 25 tilt between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Calgary Stampeders, with interest. He believes Moncton "would be the perfect spot" for an Atlantic entry in the CFL.

"You could get people coming from Halifax, Truro, Fredericton, Saint John...I think a team could float there. In B.C., we're averaging 27,000 a game. With those surrounding areas in Moncton, there's no reason we couldn't get that many people to every game."

McCullough would be a natural fit if a New Brunswick franchise were ever launched. His plan is to come home once his career winds down, "buy a house and fall into something later," he said.

Meantime, he'd like some company in the CFL this season. Fellow Frederictonian Justin Conn, another Bishops' alum, will go to camp with the Montreal Alouettes this season, and another former FHS star, Ben Thompson of Montreal's McGill University, is eligible for Sunday's CFL draft.