The V.I. Raiders feel like winners as signing day draws to a close.
Nanaimo’s Canadian Junior Football League team added a huge list of talented recruits to the roster Wednesday as it builds toward the 2016 season.
“We’re really excited with our recruiting class. It’s been the best recruiting class they’ve had here in years,” said Jerome Erdman, Raiders coach.
The team was successful in adding pieces from across the country, including close to home.
“Like every other team, we’ve got to recruit heavily in our own backyard which is the Island for us, and we honestly feel that we have got the best recruits from the Island so we are very pleased,” Erdman said.
That includes four players who were standouts with the powerhouse Mt. Douglas Rams program in Victoria: defensive lineman Trystin Waters, running back Declann Michielin and defensive backs Gevhahn McNally-Hardisty and Manny Lopez.
“I just love the atmosphere up here and the great tradition of winning,” Waters said. “Also, it feels like a family and in those three days I was up here for spring camp, I just couldn’t beat that feeling … Everyone was there to win and I come from a winning program, so to go somewhere where everyone’s not there to win would just not be me.”
McNally-Hardisty worked out with the Westshore Rebels before choosing the Raiders; the V.I. coaching staff and the team’s compete level were reasons for his choice.
“It was back and forth in my head; I didn’t really know where to go,” he said. “But it was time to make a decision and this is where my heart and my head told me to go.”
Michielin also mentioned the decision-making process was “a little tough,” but he liked the Raiders’ coaching staff and he anticipates success in Nanaimo. He also likes the idea of continuing to team up with his Mt. Doug friends.
“I’ve been playing football with them my entire life, so it will definitely be nice playing with the same familiar faces I’ve grown up playing with,” he said.
He looks forward to the challenge of moving up to junior football.
“I’m sure it’ll be a little bit different, faster, bigger people, but I think I’m a tough guy and I definitely think I can make the adjustment easily,” he said.
Waters said based on what he’s seen as far as talent and work ethic, “the sky’s the limit for this team,” and he wants to be able to contribute.
“I’ll just work my [tail] off in the gym, listen to coaches and be ready to play whenever they give me my shot,” he said.
Nanaimo players choose their hometown team
There are also some strong Nanaimo prospects joining their hometown team. Former Barsby Bulldogs quarterback North Rainey signed on, along with some more recent Barsby players including defensive lineman Doyle Sosnowski, receiver Austin Olson and linebacker Cory Fletcher. Jake Borserio, a running back from the Nanaimo Redmen, also signed with V.I.
Rainey only recently returned to the gridiron after attending junior college in the U.S. last year on a baseball scholarship.
“I enjoyed it, but I just had that itch for football that I missed. Last fall it was one of the toughest things not playing football…” he said. “I’m just happy to be home and playing again.”
Pitching built his arm strength, improving his zip on his football throws and his deep balls, he said, but the key to his game remains his athleticism.
“Hopefully I play well enough where they want to start me, but if not, there’s always other [positions] I could fill in,” Rainey said. “I’m just excited to play.”
Sosnowski said there are a lot of unknowns about the transition from high school to junior football, but he’s excited about learning a new brand of football, especially with the Raiders.
“There were a few different choices I could have went to, but in reality, I like to stay where I love and that’s here in Nanaimo and it’s going to be great playing football here,” he said.
Team adds ‘studs at every position’
Other Island players signing on include offensive lineman Brock Mould of Parksville and kicker Bryce Couture, formerly of the Rebels.
Also, the Raiders announced the signing of defensive lineman Diego Pineda and linebacker Jace Harden from Chilliwack, quarterback Jake Laberge of Port Coquitlam, quarterback Kevin Chopek from Medicine Hat, Alta., fullback Scott Messier from Squamish, receiver Brycen Mayoh of St. Catharines, Ont., defensive end Bailey Pavcek and linebacker Todd Campbell of Winnipeg, and kicker James Parker of Abbotsford, among others.
Glenn Cook, Raiders general manager, said the fact that the team made such inroads recruiting in Victoria and the Lower Mainland shows that the Raiders “are doing things right.” He said the team is going to be young and is going to make some mistakes, but it’s going to be good. He can’t wait to see main camp in July.
“It’s going to be crazy,” Cook said. “Main camp is going to be high-flying, high-speed, hard-hitting, because you’ve got three, four, five studs at every position fighting for a starting job.”
Erdman said a lot of rookies will be able to step right into starting roles on the Raiders, and he looks forward to seeing how the team takes shape, starting with main camp in just six weeks’ time.
“It’s going to be super competitive,” he said. “I’m excited, the rest of the coaching staff’s excited, the players are excited and that’s the important part.”