The V.I. Raiders have a new safety who is also a safety net.
Nanaimo’s Canadian Junior Football League team added former Okanagan Sun quarterback J.J. Mraovic over the bye week.
Mraovic, who was second in the B.C. Football Conference in passing yards and touchdowns in 2011 behind the Raiders’ Jordan Yantz, played his first game with his new team Saturday in an 85-0 win over the Chilliwack Huskers at Caledonia Park. Mraovic donned the Raiders’ home black uniform, wearing No. 14, and lined up as starting safety.
He had been released by the Sun on the eve of the season; the club cited personal reasons.
“As soon as they cut him, I phoned,” said Matthew (Snoop) Blokker, coach and general manager of the Raiders. “I think it took me 30 seconds after I knew he was released.”
Mraovic said his decision-making process took some time.
“If I didn’t go back to the Okanagan Sun, I wanted to go and play football, I wanted to help a football team,” he said. “I told coach Snoop that whatever they needed help with on this football team, put me on the field and I’ll do whatever I can and I’ll do the best that I can for you.”
The 22-year-old former CIS quarterback is in his final year of junior football. He hasn’t played the safety position since he was in peewee, and said it’s an adjustment. The backpedalling required of defensive backs is quite different, he said, from a QB’s dropbacks.
“Learning the defensive playbook, I’m coming along with that, [and] learning more and more about how to be fundamentally sound,” he said.
The Raiders also want Mraovic to start taking practice reps at his natural position.
“[He] gives the Raiders a chance to have the two best quarterbacks in the league on one team,” Blokker said.
But that doesn’t mean Mraovic immediately leapfrogs Kurtis Bardua as the Raiders’ backup QB.
“We’re a ways away from that,” Blokker said. “[Mraovic] needs to play and we’ve got to make a decision whether he can start at safety. If he continues to start at safety then we won’t move him at all. If he can’t start at safety and he’s going to be the backup, then there’s going to be competition between him and Bardua.”
It’s a nice problem for the Raiders to have – a mid-season addition who is so athletic he needs to be on the field somewhere.
“If they would like me to take some reps at quarterback, just in case Jordan Yantz goes down, God forbid, knock on wood, whatever they need me to do here is what I’m going to do,” Mraovic said.
A major bonus of the acquisition, for the Raiders, is the timing – Nanaimo’s next game is in Kelowna, against the Sun. Mraovic said it’s going to be an emotional experience lining up against the Sun, as he has a lot of friends on the team and respect for the organization and coaches.
“Playing there for a full season and being their quarterback and being their leader, I’ll always cherish those moments…” Mraovic said. “You’ve got to move on and that’s just a way of life in football.”
His new team has been very welcoming, he said, from teammates, to coaches, to fans.
“I’ve heard a lot of things about the Raiders organization,” he said. “But coming here and seeing it for myself, it’s a pretty damn good place to be.”
GRID BITS … The Raiders and Sun play Saturday (Sept. 15) in Kelowna at Apple Bowl stadium. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. … The Raiders also re-acquired safety Cole Bishop during the bye week. Bishop was going to play CIS this year, but changed his mind … To read a recap of the Raiders’ 85-0 win over the Chilliwack Huskers on Saturday, please click here.