It's 'tooning time

IAN BUSBY -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:19 AM ET

When the CFL came looking for a model for its recent television commercials, John Grace reluctantly agreed to be their man.

The Reebok ads feature the straight-faced Calgary Stampeders linebacker delivering his lines with a ferocious intensity to the effeminant 'designer' of the new Reebok jerseys.

After hearing how the Red and White is sleek and powerful, Grace replies: "Plus, it hides the blood stains."

The 2004 West Division defensive player of the year is the best actor in the spot.

If were up to him, Grace wouldn't be getting famous off his work as a football player.

In fact, he doesn't mind blending into a crowd. A perfect day for the Okeechobee, Fla., native is spending hours in front of the television alone watching his beloved cartoons.

"Out at practice, I have fun and laugh but I'm really a reclusive person," Grace said. "You don't see me hanging with a whole bunch of guys.

"If guys want to go somewhere, I'll want to meet them there instead of going. I don't travel in a pack.

"All my life, I've always been around people. I just like being by myself sometimes, which is more enjoyable that being around a bunch of people.

"When you're around the team, you're always surrounded by people.

"When you get a chance to do things by yourself, I don't take that for granted.

"Some guys have to be around people and like to be where the action is.

"I'm not one of those people. I don't avoid people. But when I go home, I stay home.

"When I go into the locker-room, I'm not trying to find out where guys are hanging out.

"I have my own things that I like to do."

So once work is done for the day, Grace heads home and turns on the all-cartoon station. Just about anything will satisfy his taste but he does have a few favourites.

Growing up, the Bugs Bunny show was a must-see as well as G.I. Joe and Transformers. Now he's into the computer-animated movies such as Shrek and The Incredibles.

Another one that has him hooked lately is Yu-Gi-Oh!, although if a show is drawn with plenty of brilliant colours, Grace will watch.

The funny thing is Grace doesn't have kids. He said the love of animation comes from the softer side of the punishing player.

"What you watch on TV is sometimes what you are like," Grace said. "When you watch cartoons, you watch them for what they are. It's senseless television. It's a great release."

In the past couple of years while still playing in the CFL, Grace earned his Masters degree from his alma mater, Marshall University. Thus, it's no surprise he scoffs at the notion football players are just big, dumb jocks.

If Grace had to get by on physical ability alone, he might not be the player he has become. It's the ability to see plays develop that helps him get the job done . It's a skill honed by watching drills in practice. The Stampeders coaches won't judge Grace on his practice ability alone, for which the 28-year-old is thankful.

"Not everybody can practice like I practice then go in the game and perform," Grace said. "I'm the worst practice player you've ever seen. I'm not the same player on game day.

"Practice is more mental. Sometimes being physical gets in the way of the mental process.

"I come out here and I want to see everything happen.

"I know physically what I'm capable of doing. If I can see it mentally, I can figure out my part of the puzzle. If I'm flying around, I can't picture it mentally in my head. When the game comes, it's still cloudy.

"I like to read the things in the game, so I know exactly where I need to be."


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