Life off the gridiron

Former Grey Cup winner felt his best football was behind him

Life is still busy for Brackendale’s Joe Eppele.

His CFL career was cut short by injury and it’s been more than a year since the offensive lineman officially hung up his cleats and pads for the last time. 

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“I had a feeling my best football was behind me due to injuries, and I wanted to step out on my own terms,” he told The Squamish Chief. “I’ve been very happy with the decision I made.”

Now living in Ontario, he has been busy with business activities and community. He and a partner took over a 12,000-square-foot 24-hour training facility called the Royal Windsor Fitness Club in Mississauga, Ont., close to where he lives.

He completed a masters degree in business administration through the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. last July. 

He is also a sponsored athlete and sales representative for a supplement company called Beyond Yourself, as well as a product ambassador for Lululemon. 

Even though Eppele has retired as a professional football player, he continues to be an active community member as a celebrity ambassador with a kids’ help line, has helped the World Wildlife Fund and worked with the Toronto Argonauts’ Huddle Up, an anti-bullying campaign in schools.

While Ottawa chose him in the expansion draft in late 2013, he never really got the chance to play there. He spent most of his time on the field with the Argos from 2010 to 2013 after being taken second overall in the CFL draft after playing football for Washington State University. 

“I had a pretty good idea,” he says. “I was projected to go quite high in the draft.”

He was also named to the then-Pac-10 all-academic second team in his last two years at WSU as well as the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame 2010 Hampshire Honor Society, which honours athletes for their performance on the field and in class. 

Even reaching the level of college football in the U.S. was not something he expected. After playing for Howe Sound Secondary, he moved on to play for Vancouver College in Grade 12 and was at a football camp with the team, hosted by Eastern Washington University, when some coaches from WSU brought him to their own camp on their campus. To comply with NCAA rules, they had to take him off campus to offer him a scholarship, and from there his NCAA career began.

Football was actually a surprise because Eppele was also a track athlete who competed on the national team at hammer throw. He also took part in shot put and discus. It was natural that if he advanced anywhere, it would be on the track infield and not the gridiron.

He also admits the jump to university football in the U.S. was a learning experience. He recalls how the ground shook beneath his feet because of the crowd while playing against the University of Wisconsin.

“I was completely clueless when it came to university football, especially down south,” he says. “I honestly had no idea of the scale of football I was going to be exposed to.” 

From there it was off to the CFL, where he won a Grey Cup with Toronto in 2012.

Even with all he has going on in his life, giving up football was not an easy decision, especially as it followed not long after losing his father to brain cancer, but it was a talk with his father that inspired to think more long-term about what he wanted to do with the rest of his life that pushed him to make the choice to step off the field.

“It was extremely difficult,” he says. 

While he spent his career with the Argonauts, he was taken by the Ottawa Redblacks in the expansion draft, and while he practiced with Ottawa, he never really played with them because of his injuries, which required two shoulder surgeries back to back as well as leg surgery.

When it came time to retire, he signed a contract that allowed him to retire back where he started. 

“I came back for one day,” he says. “I finished as an Argo.”

He and his mother were brought out on the field for the retirement ceremony during halftime at a game.

“It was special. I was very appreciative,” he says. “I still love the sport. I love everything about the league.”

Argonauts General Manager Jim Barker said in a news release in October 2015, “We drafted Joe in the first round of the CFL Draft and we couldn’t have been happier with the player and the person we got. As an Argonaut, Joe was an excellent role model on and off the field. He had a powerful physical presence on the field and he was well liked in our locker room. He was also an outstanding citizen within our community and a good ambassador for youth throughout Toronto. We are proud that he will retire in Double Blue.”

Still, Eppele did make some connections with Ottawa and was at the Grey Cup in November, cheering on the Redblacks to their upset victory over Calgary.

 

“I was cheering for them the whole way through,” he says. 

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