Every season, the V.I. Raiders have new players and a new identity. The attitude never changes, though – anything less than a championship season is not good enough.
It all starts for real this Saturday (July 30) as Nanaimo’s Canadian Junior Football League team heads to the Fraser Valley to play the Langley Rams.
Fans who make the trip to the mainland might want to buy a program, as there are a lot of newcomers on both sides of the ball. All the playmakers are back on offence, though, some of the leaders of the defence return, and the first-year Raiders are cause for optimism.
“With the confidence that we have floating around here and the attitude that we have in the air, it’s real good,” said Jordan Yantz, starting quarterback. “We’re excited about it.”
That excitement about football season has inspired hard work.
“We want this team to be in mid-season form for Week 1, so we’re really trying to work our butts off to try to achieve that,” said Nick Woznesensky, defensive lineman.
Coach Matthew “Snoop” Blokker said players still need to study their playbooks and up the tempo at practices, but he sees a group that’s ready to win.
“Our biggest strength is going to be how we can adapt,” Blokker said. “We have the opportunity to play all the facets.”
Here’s a look at the Raiders who will take the field in Satuday’s season opener:
The Raiders’ attack centres around Yantz, and the coach said the team is working on protection plans to give the MVP quarterback all the time and space he needs.
“With the receiving corps that he has and the backs that can catch footballs, we’re going to be explosive,” Blokker said.
Yantz and his all-Nanaimo receiving corps spent much of the off-season together working on routes, so the passing game will be a few yards ahead of the rest of the CJFL’s defences.
“We’re still working on our ups and downs with our offensive line and our running backs’ mesh points, but I think we do have a head start with our full receiving corps and with [tailback Jordan] Botel in the backfield still,” Yantz said.
“We do have a lot of chemistry there which obviously has carried over and it’s only going to keep getting better from here.”
Backing up Yantz will be Kurtis Bardua and Taylor Yaremchuk.
Joining Botel in the backfield will be Alex Jobson and Taylor Flavel and fullback Ashton Galloway.
The receiving corps is led by record-setting Mike Schaper, with Andrew Smith, Whitman Tomusiak and Dustin Pedersen as the other primary targets. Marshall Cook and Owen Redlick will also see some passes thrown in their direction this season.
The offensive line is a work in progress, as the Raiders are trying to put together a young group that can build chemistry for not only this season, but beyond. Alec Pennell and Tyler Oldendorf are the veterans, and Steve Daniel has been converted from a defensive lineman into an O line starter. The other two starting spots were still up in the air going into Week 1.
The defence is generally a young group, but the coach said age isn’t all that important if the players are coachable. And the first-year guys are catching on, said the veteran Woznesensky.
“We’re aggressive, we ball out and we do things a certain way here,” he said. “A lot of these younger guys have really taken that to heart.”
Woznesensky and Evan Foster return to the D line and newcomer Anthony Boutet is a high-profile recruit.
At linebacker, Andrew Oake and Ranji Atwall return and Nanaimo’s Dylan Chapdelaine is a key addition. Veteran Glenn Boyce will also play a role.
In the defensive backfield, corner Tremaine Apperley is the only returning starter, but receiver James Riley has been converted to defensive halfback and has won a starter’s job. First-year standouts Adam Laurensse at corner, Skylor Letcher at halfback and Cole Bishop at safety round out the unit.
“Our defence has really, really improved in team speed,” said Blokker. “We’re a much faster defence than we were last year, I believe, and we’re fast in all different positions.”
Kicker Mark Mueller is coming back from injury and will return by Aug. 6. He could be available for this Saturday’s game.
Returning kicks to start the season will be Bishop and Jobson, but the Raiders have another prospect coming in Week 3.
The Raiders are expecting the Rams to be a much tougher test than the Victoria Rebels provided in the pre-season.
“[The Rams] love to bring their pressure and bring heat and play their match defence, so that’s something we’re going to prepare for,” Yantz said.
The Raiders will put in the film study and correct mistakes to get ready, Woznesensky said.
“They’re always a very physical football team and they always play us really well.”
The game Saturday (July 30) on the road against the Langley Rams starts at 5 p.m. and will be webcast live at www.viraiders.ca. The Raiders will play the Rebels on the road in Week 2 before finally coming home to Caledonia Park Aug. 13 to face the Kamloops Broncos … Season tickets may be purchased today (July 28) at 5:30 p.m. at Caledonia Park during the Blair McKinnon Celebrity Flag Football Charity Game.