The V.I. Raiders say they’ve been stacking up good days these past few weeks. That’s important, because there aren’t many days left now before football season kicks off.
Nanaimo’s B.C. Football Conference team starts the 2018 season on the road Sunday, Aug. 5, against the Chilliwack Huskers.
Doug Hocking, Raiders coach, said his guys have not only done good work on the practice field, but have exhibited the sort of attitude that the coaching staff wants to see.
“I couldn’t ask more of what they’ve done so far and the work they’ve done and we just keep stacking good days together right now…” he said.
“Their job is to worry about one rep at a time. Performing and executing at their highest level for that one rep and then as soon as it’s done, letting it go and getting on to the next one … If we stack up good days during the week, game days take care of themselves.”
The Raiders, defending B.C. champions, made a change this year to their pre-season, forgoing main camp and jumping right into regular practice nights. It’s worked, Hocking said.
“We’ve had a process since Day 1 of where we wanted to be going into this week and we’re right there,” said the coach. “We’ve managed how physical they are in practice, but last week and going into this week, we’ve been full-go.”
Here’s a glimpse at what the roster is expected to look like on Sunday:
Jake Laberge returns as the No. 1 quarterback, now in his third year as a starter. He will be backed up by Gabe Olivares and Cole McGarvey.
At running back, Rhett Williams has separated himself as the starting tailback spot as he reported in “phenomenal shape,” the coach said, and looks fast and physical.
Zander Bailey is among a group of several other guys who will get carries at the position, too.
There is significant change at the receiver position, as the Raiders said Brycen Mayoh, an all-Canadian last season, did not report. Two newcomers, though, can expect a lot of passes to come their way: Mike West, a former all-star, has had a great camp, and Eli Nelms-Horton, a sprinting champion from Victoria’s Belmont Secondary, is expected to step right in and contribute. Veteran Jared Braun is a leader of the corps and Hocking said there are another three or four guys who will give the Raiders a lot of options for filling out the other one or two starting spots.
Laberge said the different skillsets in the mix this year will mean some changes to the passing game.
“This year we’ve got six guys that can be deep threats and they can catch the ball and do anything, so definitely it will be a little bit of a different concept,” he said. “We’re definitely going to spread the ball out this year and get everyone involved.”
The offensive line is led by tackle Traven Weasel-Traveller, centre Trystin Waters, and another vet, Braydon Winger.
Colin Pippy is back as offensive coordinator.
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While Hocking thinks the D line and linebacking unit can be strength areas, he knows the DB corps will be.
“That’s going to be the strength of our defence,” he said. “There’s more experience there and leadership coming out of that group than we’ve had in a long time. The way that group of kids is playing right now is pretty impressive.”
Shawn Arabsky can do it all at safety, Jérémie Cheng is another ball-hawk at halfback, and the corners are taken care of with veteran Gevhahn McNally-Hardisty and new addition Isaiah Johns. The other halfback spot was still to be determined over the final practice week.
At linebacker, Todd Campbell has taken strides, both with his play and his leadership, to win the starting middle linebacker job. Tyler Hill at strongside and Matt Cox at weakside are the other starters.
Up on the D line, Brody Taylor will be heavily relied on in his fifth year and Doyle Sosnowski, though he’s been playing hurt, is poised for a strong season and coaches love the edge he brings. Garrett Beardy, who is in his fifth year of junior eligibility but first with the Raiders, will be a force at defensive tackle.
Karim Maher returns as defensive coordinator.
Teams will see numerous changes, as the Raiders lose not only their primary returner Mayoh, but also placekicker James Parker, who moved up to CIS. Nik Hunchak is back as punter, though.
There are a lot of different Raiders who will get opportunities to return kicks. Bailey, Williams, Nelms-Horton and North Rainey are some who have looked good in that role.
Sean Roden is back as special teams coordinator.
The start of football is an exciting time for the Raiders, said Hocking. He said it’s seemed like preparations have been going on a long time and said guys are “chomping at the bit” to get the season underway.
“Right now you can see the seriousness in their eyes when we get up into the meeting room. They understand it’s game week and they understand there’s a little bit different mood,” he said.
Laberge said he’s pumped.
“We’ve got a good group of guys, a good group of coaches and I’m just ready to fly around and play football,” he said. “It’s been too long.”
The Raiders and Huskers play Sunday at 2 p.m. in the Fraser Valley. The first home game for the Raiders is Aug. 11 against the Kamloops Broncos at 2:30 p.m. at Caledonia Park.