The V.I. Raiders want to take the things that are working and turn up the dial.
Led by new coach Doug Hocking, Nanaimo’s junior football team wants to be tough and intense as the 2017 B.C. Football Conference season is about to get underway.
The Raiders are getting ready for a road game against the Langley Rams this Saturday (July 29).
“Everything we put in, we’re executing at a high level and our guys are responding well to it…” said Hocking. “We’re still working on the game plan a little bit and we’re fine-tuning some things, but most of all, our guys are ready to play against somebody else.”
There are certain traits Hocking particularly values as a coach; he’s been trying to get those across since Day 1 and he thinks it’s working.
“I believe we’re a group that’s more mentally tough, I think we’re more physical and even compared to last year, we’re ahead of where we were last year,” he said. “And as far as intensity, we’ll see Saturday.”
Here’s a look at how the Raiders’ roster is shaping up:
— Greg Sakaki (@BulletinSports) July 26, 2017
Returning for his second season as starting quarterback is Jake Laberge. He was pushed in camp by Jamie Ybarra, but earlier this week doctors discovered a blood clot in Ybarra’s lung which will keep the veteran off the field for the foreseeable future.
Cole McGarvey, slotted to be the third-stringer, now becomes the backup and the Raiders will build a package of plays for receiver North Rainey so that he can contribute at QB when needed.
One of the biggest changes with the Raiders this year will be the running back corps. Rhett Williams has risen up the roster and he and rookie Zander Bailey will share carries.
“Both of them in the open field have potential to break away from defenders and get to the endzone,” Hocking said. “What I’d like to see more out of them is to put their shoulder down and start running through some people.”
At receiver, Rainey will be a playmaker in the slot, Evan Rhode is poised to become a key contributor and Trevor Pelland and Brycen Mayoh will be other primary pass catchers. High-profile off-season recruit Josh Tipton is injured to start the season.
To make the most out of those units, the Raiders will need a makeshift offensive line to come together.
“At the end of the day, it’s all predicated on keeping the quarterback on his feet,” Hocking said.
The O-line will be anchored by veteran Ryan Dekker and stud transfer Cody Upton. Two converted defensive linemen, Trystin Waters and Kaelan Botel, and returnee Traven Weasel Traveller round out the unit.
Colin Pippy is the new offensive coordinator.
Up front, V.I. expects to have versatility and depth on the defensive line. The group is led by Quinton Bowles, who returns to the team after a year of CIS, and the Raiders are expecting a breakout year from defensive end Brody Taylor. Parker Smith leads the interior of the D-line. Doug Thornton and Matt Hill are other key contributors on the D-line along with Mason Kelley.
At linebacker, all-star Dexter Shea is back to lead the corps, with Nathan Mayers at strongside. Tyler Hill is looking good at weakside linebacker and Matthew Cox and Cory Fletcher are two others who are right there in the running for starters’ reps.
The secondary will be a difference-maker in any Raiders’ success this season.
“The strength of our defence, as far as I’m concerned, is our defensive backs,” Hocking said. “We haven’t missed a beat with Cole Virtanen leaving [for the CIS]. We may be better back there … They’re a confident group.”
The Raiders will start Josh Paisley and Jérémie Cheng as defensive halfbacks, Alex Eberling and Gevhahn McNally-Hardisty at the corners and new addition Shawn Arabsky at safety.
Karim Maher takes over as defensive coordinator.
Hocking is happy with how things are shaping up on teams, saying that the Raiders had their best special teams practice of the year earlier this week.
James Parker, entrusted with most of the important kicks last season, will now handle all placekicking and punting.
Paisley will be back returning punts and will also be used more on kickoff returns alongside Mayoh.
Sean Roden is the Raiders’ new special teams coordinator.
Hocking said the Week 1 schedule is perfect in a way, because his team gets to go on the road to face an opponent it didn’t play well against last year. So in addition to the excitement of a new season, there’s also the motivation to make good.
“There’s going to be a feeling-out process in this football game…” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s who’s going to make less mistakes, who’s going to make the least amount of turnovers and if that’s us and we decide to be that team, then at the end of the day I think we should be happy.”
The Raiders and Rams kick off Saturday at 4 p.m. at Langley’s McLeod Athletic Park. Home opener for the Raiders is Aug. 5, when the Westshore Rebels visit Caledonia Park for a 5 p.m. kickoff.