It’s a new football season, and the V.I. Raiders are starting fresh.
Nanaimo’s Canadian Junior Football League team opens main camp Thursday (July 18) at the Campbell River Sportsplex, with the season opener eight days away.
The Raiders – who saw their string of six straight B.C. championships end in 2012 – will be a new-look team this summer. There are 81 players on the roster right now, a majority of them new to the black, white and red.
“We’ve got some really good football players, guys that understand the game and how to play it,” said Matthew (Snoop) Blokker, Raiders coach. “Yeah, we’re young, but we’re young and talented and I’ll take that anytime.”
If 81 sounds like a lot of players, it is.
“We haven’t carried that many players so we’ve got some logistics to make sure that we do right so that we still can create the type of tempo and not have guys sitting around,” Blokker said.
He and the other members of the coaching staff have had four practices at Comox Field over the past week to gauge the players. The football club has also used the time to take care of matters such as registration, housing and employment. The goal is to have as many of those distractions out of the way as possible by Thursday.
“So we can take advantage of every second we have up there,” Blokker said.
The Raiders need to make the most of their time. With so many newcomers, there’s a lot of learning and teaching that needs to take place.
“We have to start from the very, very basics,” said the coach. “Our playbook right now has shrunk right down. We’ll build as we can execute.”
Still, players will be expected to learn quickly. The advantage to having 81 players, said Blokker, is that if one guy isn’t getting it, there’s probably someone else on the sidelines who does get it.
“We want to get the train going 100 miles and hour and the only way we’ll do that is not stop it for people that don’t know what they’re doing,” said the coach. “And when they do find out what they’re doing, they can get back on the train.”
There is competition for starting spots and playing time at virtually every position on the field. The Raiders’ defensive lineup, in particular, is very much up in the air with around 50 guys competing for the 12 starting jobs.
One of the ways guys can separate themselves is with their conditioning. Blokker said he expects this year’s main camp to be the most physically demanding yet.
“We’ve got to create that discipline and fitness,” he said. “We want to be that team in the fourth quarter that’s moving one way and not the other.”
Main camp is never any summer holiday, and there’s a sense of urgency, too, as the B.C. Football Conference regular season starts five days after camp ends.
“At the end of it we’re definitely going to have our guys ready to go for Week 1,” Blokker said.
GAME ON … The Raiders start the CJFL season July 27 when they play the Westshore Rebels at 7 p.m. at Victoria’s Bear Mountain Stadium. V.I.’s home opener is Aug. 10.