V.I. Raiders linebacker Ranji Atwall pushes around the blocking sled during practice Tuesday night at Comox Field. Atwall is the team’s leader in tackles this season.

V.I. Raiders linebacker Ranji Atwall pushes around the blocking sled during practice Tuesday night at Comox Field. Atwall is the team’s leader in tackles this season.

Raiders veteran ‘destroying’ offences

Linebacker Ranji Atwall leading team in his final season of junior football

Ranji Atwall’s statistics were mighty impressive Saturday night in Victoria. The V.I. Raiders linebacker finished with five tackles, a sack and a 46-yard interception return for a touchdown as his team dominated the Victoria Rebels 72-6.

There was one other category in which Atwall led the Raiders that night: most angry about those six points allowed.

“I was just upset and emotional and wanted to keep that zero on the board really badly,” he said.

By game’s end, Atwall’s mood had improved. His TD, scored with no time left on the clock, was his first ever in the Canadian Junior Football League.

“We’re always taught to try to score on defence and I saw open field … I went for it,” he said. “It was a good note to end on, just an awesome feeling.”

It was one more big play by a guy who’s been making them ever since he came to the Raiders in 2007.

It was a lucky coincidence that brought him to the Island – Atwall, from Richmond, might never have considered Nanaimo if his uncle’s brother Kip Sihota, a former V.I. Raiders board member, hadn’t made the suggestion.

Atwall ended up being the team’s Rookie of the Year in 2007 and started a collection of football championships that just keeps growing.

Along the way he’s garnered interest from Canadian universities, attended their camps and has had to make tough decisions. Each time, he’s chosen the Raiders.

In Nanaimo he’s been able to attend Vancouver Island University and is close to finishing his degree in human kinetics. He can still go play two years of CIS ball, but first, he’s got one more goal in mind at the junior level.

“I think it was the right decision coming back here my fifth year,” Atwall said. “To come back and lead a bunch of young guys to another national championship, I think that would be real special.”

The Raiders’ chances are certainly much better with No. 38 in the linebacking corps. Atwall moved from weakside to strongside this season, where he has more freedom to run around the open field.

“More plays come his way and he’s just taking it on and destroying it,” said Matthew “Snoop” Blokker, Raiders coach. “He’s going to be a really exciting player to watch.”

Exciting for fans, and an example for his teammates. Blokker said Atwall has never missed a single practice and has battled in every single game.

“Ranji does a great job in making sure we understand that, what it means to be a Raider,” the coach said.

Atwall understands it and he appreciates it. And anyone can see, while he’s out in the open field “destroying it”, that he’s making the most of one last season of Raiders football.

“Sometimes you take a deep breath and go, ‘OK, there’s no next year.’ As much as it’s a sad thing, it’s quite an accomplishment to be here for five years,” he said. “Hopefully it ends with a win.”

GAME ON … The V.I. Raiders play their home opener against the Kamloops Broncos this Saturday (Aug. 13) at 4 p.m. at Caledonia Park. For a preview, please check back at www.nanaimobulletin.com tomorrow or pick up Saturday’s print issue of the News Bulletin … In other team news, Jordan Yantz was named the B.C. Football Conference’s Offensive Player of the Week for the second straight time. Read our news brief here … To read yesterday’s article on the Raiders, please click here.

sports@nanaimobulletin.com