Maybe some of Caledonia Park’s magic will spark this year’s V.I. Raiders junior football team.
Nanaimo’s B.C. Football Conference club held its spring camp last weekend, May 27-28, on the old grass field on Wall Street.
The Raiders now play their home games at Q’unq’inuqwstuxw Stadium, but Caledonia Park is where the team built its history and tradition and won two of its three national championships.
“Just being back in Caledonia is definitely nostalgic for me,” said Andrew Harris, who starred on the Raiders teams of that era and who is now the club’s head of football operations. “Coming back here, I got goosebumps as soon as I walked through the gates there.”
This past weekend’s camp was reminiscent of the old days, with cleats tearing up the playing surface as highly touted junior-aged athletes battled to stand out to coaches, but also show how they would fit together as Raiders teammates.
Harris said spring camp was “awesome,” bringing together a mix of returning players and newcomers all excited to compete for an opportunity.
“They’re eager to get on the field, they’re eager to make some plays and what they’ve shown so far is the ability to pick up a new playbook … there’s a big learning curve there,” he said. “So when you’re able to get mentally locked in and then physically able to dominate the way they have been, it’s pretty impressive. So I’m excited for the progress and the growth.”
Harris said Raiders staff have done a great job recruiting. Players came from as far away as Toronto to take part in spring camp and Harris said junior teams need to have that kind of recruiting reach to be competitive. The V.I. club was missing at least 15 guys, he said, such as players completing their post-secondary semesters, who will join the team in time for main camp.
“The biggest thing for me is the culture needs to take a turn…” Harris said. “Are guys willing to come out here, give it 100 per cent every day and be all in? And that’s from the coaches and the players. And that’s what I’m seeing right now, so I’m excited for that.”
The BCFC season doesn’t start until late July, so from now until then, Raiders players will be expected to keep up their workouts, of course. But even more important for some, said Harris, will be “actual life” and the logistics of moving to a new city and finding accommodations and employment. Harris can relate, as he moved from Winnipeg to Nanaimo to play junior football, and said it’s an exciting time but there’s a lot of things to figure out.
“That’s a whole part of this junior thing that I really love about it as well, is having that mentorship and being someone that looks over them and makes sure they’re making the right decisions and watching them grow and blossom into better young men,” Harris said.
The regular season starts July 29. For ticket information, visit www.viraiders.ca/schedule.Follow @nanaimobulletin