After losing a full football season to the pandemic, the V.I. Raiders want get playing and get winning.
Nanaimo’s B.C. Football Conference team returns to the gridiron this week, 22 and a half months since the last time they played a competitive game.
“The guys are hungry to play,” said Curtis Vizza, the team’s coach. “A lot of these guys always have been, but it adds a little bit more to it for them, for sure … The opportunity to play, it was taken away so easily.”
Every team in the league will be a new-look team after being sidelined for so long, and the Raiders are no different. General manager Josh Williams and the Raiders organization had to rely on connections across the country to help put together a roster without the benefit of scouting or spring camp.
Veteran quarterback Jake LaBerge said the Raiders have been able to add players on both sides of the ball who are going to be able to step in and make plays. It will take a little bit of time to get up to the pace and physicality demanded in B.C. junior football, but that will be the same for every team.
“As we get going, this group’s going to get better and better and better. I see a lot of potential in this group and they’re going to do a lot of damage in the BCFC,” Vizza said.
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LaBerge said it already feels like the Raiders have bonded and are well-positioned to compete alongside one another.
“I think really, it’s a blank slate for every team,” the QB said. “Whether you were the BCFC champ or you were 0-10, it doesn’t really matter what you did in the past, because this year is a different year.”
A noticeable different for fans will be home field. After 14 seasons at Caledonia Park, the Raiders will play their home games on turf at NDSS Community Field, with three of their four games to be played at night.
Vizza noted that the season opener will be the first home night game under the lights in the franchise’s history.
“That for us as an organization is a really great thing for us, to bring in more fans and make it an exciting night event for Nanaimo. It’s always an electric environment,” the coach said.
LaBerge said the move to the turf field is exciting as a “new chapter” for the Raiders and can help the team bring in new fans from the community.
“I personally like Caledonia a lot, but I know for the skill guys, it feels like the field’s working against them when it’s wet and rainy out,” he said.
The Raiders were used to the mud at Caledonia, so it will be up to Nanaimo fans to help provide the home-field advantage with their support this season.
“We need Nanaimo to show up and be part of this. It’s going to be something special,” Vizza said.
GAME ON … The Raiders play the Langley Rams on Saturday, Sept. 11, at 5:30 p.m. at NDSS Community Field.