Jesse Newman, a two-time Grey Cup champion with the BC Lions and Calgary Stampeders, will be inducted into the Powell River Sports Hall of Fame as part of the 2022 intake, along with nine other inductees later this June.
Newman was a born athlete. His interests started in track and field, soccer, baseball and basketball before getting hooked on contact sports while playing for Powell River Otago’s junior rugby team.
He trained with local track and field legends Victor Njume and Scott Glaspey, who were an excellent source of coaching and inspiration, according to Newman. Soon, his love for rugby transitioned into football, but with no local team, he moved to Tsawwassen to live with his grandmother in the middle of grade 11.
While playing football in high school, Newman said he noticed that most of the other players grew up playing the sport, while he was just starting. But he loved it, and he was good.
“All the other sports I played up to that point allowed me to take that athleticism to whatever sport I wanted,” he added. “I was completely hooked on football at the time.”
He played for a few junior football clubs in BC and started getting serious about the idea of playing for a university team. For better scouting opportunities, he applied to universities in the United States.
“I went and got someone in Powell River to help me make a highlight tape, and this is back in the VHS days, so I was sitting at home making VHS copies and mailing them out,” said Newman. “Basically, it was like a resume, and I sent that out to 100 schools in total.”
A few universities responded, but he decided to go with the University of Louisiana, where he earned a bachelor in exercise science degree.
Again, starting university football later than many of his teammates, being 21 years old at the time, gave him some advantages. He was selected to play right away, where most freshmen have to wait a year.
During his time playing university football, he was a starter, an all-conference player and a third-team All-American. He was earning some accolades.
In 2008, Newman signed with the Canadian Football League’s Calgary Stampeders after being selected in the first round of the draft, third overall. He missed the first two or three games due to a knee injury and was placed on a practice team while healing. But he did so well he was selected to play guard as a starter, jumping ahead of other players who were next in line.
“It was an incredible surprise to everyone, including myself,” he said. “These two other guys who had been there for a few years and had some experience, they chose me over them. So that was unbelievably cool to have that confidence and support.”
The team allowed Newman to jump right in, and he made the most of it.
“It was trial by fire, and it was a great feeling. I was playing good football, and I retained my starting role for the rest of the year.”
Newman recalled some incredible moments from his career, such as being a starter in the 2008 Grey Cup in Montreal.
“Being a rookie and starting is not super common, and doing that in a Grey Cup win is just absolutely the best,” he said. “Couldn’t beat it.”
But there is one other memory that does. Newman was given a game ball in his first year, which now sits on display in his mom’s home.
“Usually offensive linemen never get game balls, and you know, to be recognized as a rookie was amazing,” he added.
Newman played in the CFL for a few more years and was a starter as a member of the BC Lions in the 2011 Grey Cup, which resulted in another championship. After five years of playing professionally, he retired from football.
“I retired very early; a five-year career is incredibly short, and a lot of guys just stop playing after five years and not by their choice,” he explained. “They usually get cut or injured or something, so it was nice to go out on my own terms. Football is incredibly hard on your body.”
Even though he was young, he said five years felt like a lifetime.
“A lot of people are probably shaking their heads. There are people, aspiring to be starters, and here’s this starter Canadian who’s just retiring out of the blue. But, I’m really glad I did.”
Newman remembers playing with Jeff Pilon and watching him get stuck with needles to freeze his knee before each game. He said Pilon would not be able to use it again for up to a week after the game. He didn’t want to end up like that.
After retiring, he started thinking about firefighting, which requires first aid certification and a driver’s licence. He took it a step further, becoming a paramedic, and got his class one, but he never ended up being a firefighter.
Instead, he moved back to the qathet region six years ago and started volunteering with Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society (PRPAWS), specifically with a group that maintains the Sunshine Coast Trail (SCT). Through that volunteer work, a co-founder with PRPAWS suggested starting a shuttle company to transport hikers up to the SCT starting point. He liked that idea a lot and ran with it.
Newman began unofficially driving people to trail heads, until he realized it was a viable business a few months later. He registered it, and in the five or so years since Sunshine Coast Shuttle has been operating, he’s added more vehicles, drivers and a 22-seater bus.
“It’s a small and budding business, but we’re slowly and steadily growing.”
Currently, he is president of PRPAWS, second year running, and is also on the board of directors for Tourism Powell River.
“It’s very nice to give back and be part of these groups,” he said. “Not only the organization that helped me start that business but just Powell River in general.”
Getting the call
After hearing about being inducted to Powell River Sports Hall of Fame, Newman said it felt good to hear the surprising news.
“Since this is only the second induction, there are so many athletes from the past who need to be recognized before someone younger like myself,” he added. “It’s phenomenal; I’m really honoured to be recognized with my fellow inductees.”
But no one will be happier than his mom.
“She absolutely loves seeing my name in the paper. It’s been a while since it was a common thing. I’m going to enjoy it a lot, but I’m going to enjoy seeing my mom’s face even more.”