The V.I. Raiders’ 10th-anniversary season is a chance to celebrate the past. It’s also a time to look ahead toward the next decade, and that’s how the new recruits start to figure in.
Junior football’s signing day was June 1, with high school and midget prospects determining where they wish to play this coming season.
Right away the Raiders revealed half a dozen recruits – quarterback Brody Taylor, receiver Kalven Kellock and fullback Justin Cook from Nanaimo, quarterback Michael Lemoine from North Vancouver, receiver Evan Rhode from Chemainus and defensive lineman Kaelan Botel from Prince George.
“We’re pretty excited,” said Curtis Hansen, Raiders assistant coach. “We’ve had interest from all over the country, like we normally do.”
Taylor, Kellock and Cook were part of the Barsby Bulldogs’ 2013 provincial AA varsity championship victory. Taylor, who was Top Offensive Back in that game, has been on the Raiders’ radar for some time, and vice-versa.
“They’ve been there, they’ve been winning, they’ve been successful and with the coaching staff and everything, it just seems like a good fit for me,” said Taylor.
Hansen said Rhode was an exciting playmaker with the Cowichan Bulldogs last season. Evan is the son of late Nanaimo sports reporter Michael Rhode, who covered the Raiders for five seasons.
“I’ve just really enjoyed watching the Raiders from when I was little, to growing up, and it’s something I’ve really been excited about,” Evan Rhode said.
Kaelan Botel is the younger brother of former Raiders running back Jordan Botel.
The new recruits like the way the 2014 team is shaping up.
“I think we’re going to have a really hard-working team and we’re all going to work together as one group,” said Rhode.
To do so, the rookies will need to keep up with the pace of junior football. Leading up to main camp, players are expected to get bigger, faster and stronger. Taylor said part of the adjustment is mental.
“Just the mindset of playing with older guys,” he said. “Coming in and competing, not thinking that since they’re older that they’re going to be better than you. You need to play up to their standards.”
The Raiders didn’t sign all the prospects on their wish list, but they still have their eye on a few Nanaimo players who haven’t yet committed to any program.
“Recruiting’s a dog-eat-dog world,” Hansen said. “We just want to put forward the best opportunity for these young men and keep our local guys at home.”
He said it’s a huge decision to move away from home, or move to Nanaimo for that matter, and said the Raiders try to make players aware of what to expect.
In the meantime, Raiders coaches are reassessing the roster daily, Hansen said. Signing day isn’t any kind of deadline, after all.
“[It’s] not a big day for us to rush to the finish line,” the assistant coach said. “The finish line is at the end of the season, after Game 10, and then it all starts again.”