V.I. Raiders quarterback Liam O’Brien throws the football to a receiver during a drill at main camp earlier this month at Caledonia Park. The B.C. Football Conference season starts Saturday (July 25).

V.I. Raiders quarterback Liam O’Brien throws the football to a receiver during a drill at main camp earlier this month at Caledonia Park. The B.C. Football Conference season starts Saturday (July 25).

V.I. Raiders will try to rise again

The V.I. Raiders kick off the B.C. Football Conference regular season this Saturday (July 25) in Nanaimo against the Langley Rams.

The V.I. Raiders celebrated their 10th anniversary season last year, and now, they begin their next 10.

The Raiders will start finding out what’s next when the B.C. Football Conference regular season kicks off this Saturday (July 25) in Nanaimo.

The Raiders are led by new coach Jerome Erdman, who has coached in NFL Europe, the CFL and CIS, but hasn’t been a head coach in 15 years.

“I’m excited…” he said. “It’s going to be a new experience, but you get it down to the basics and football’s football.”

He considers the Raiders a lunch-bucket, blue-collar team.

“We’re going to work hard and we’re going to bring it and we’re going to play to that final whistle…” the coach said. “We can’t control if other teams have got more gifted athletes than us, but we can certainly control our work ethic and we can certainly control our attitude.”

Erdman said his players deserve to see results for the work they’re putting in. He said they’re a young but enthusiastic bunch.

“With a young team there’s going to be a lot of unknowns, but that’s part of the fun,” he said. “It’s unknown for us, it’s unknown for the other teams so it’s going to be very interesting.”

Here’s a look at the 2015 Raiders:

OFFENCE

The Raiders’ attack will be built around All-Canadian quarterback Liam O’Brien, who led the country in passing yards in his rookie season last year.

His primary target will be Dustin Rodriguez, who will be featured more than ever before in the Raiders’ offence.

“This is his year to shine…” said Erdman. “He’s going to be the man, and I expect big things.”

Arthur Fabbro and Taylor Flavel are other veterans in the receiving corps.

Returnees Trevor Pelland, Dustin Hamm and Sam Dueck can look forward to expanded roles this year and rookie Dallas Towle out of Parksville will get the opportunity to make catches.

“We’ve got some good, fast guys and a couple good possession receivers, too,” O’Brien said. “They’re contributing in a lot of different areas. Hopefully they can do it all.”

Nate Berg is starting tailback and Justin Cook at fullback will have chances to carry the ball.

The offensive line is anchored by centre Ryan Dekker and fellow returnees Jordan Cundy and Terrek Bryant.

Todd Hansen takes over as offensive coordinator.

DEFENCE

On defence, there’s a lot of youth in the secondary, so the front seven will be asked to set the tone and be playmakers.

The D line is shaping up to be a strength, led by end Quinton Bowles and tackle Nathan Warawa. The Raiders are high on rookie Parker Smith at nose tackle and there is good depth on the unit.

The linebacking corps includes veteran leader Nigel Henry, and Erdman said he’s interested to see how another vet, Dexter Shea, will do in an increased role.

Returnee Josh Paisley has been impressive at defensive halfback, but it’s conceivable he could be joined in the backfield by four rookie starters.

“They’re good back there, but it’s a tough place to be young,” Erdman said.

Rookie Adam McDonald of Winnipeg is the likely starting safety and the Raiders also look forward to seeing how Nanaimo’s Cole Virtanen, their most highly touted recruit, will fare in the DB corps.

Erdman will handle defensive coordinator duties.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The head coach pointed out that special teams success comes through heart and discipline, things the Raiders can control.

“To me, an attitude of the team is reflected on special teams so I expect us to get after it big on teams. It’s such a big factor,” Erdman said.

Matias Bueno returns as placekicker, and the Raiders will continue to use Rodriguez as punter, as they like his versatility to escape and be a threat for fakes.

Rodriguez will also be the primary punt returner and Paisley will get opportunities there, as well.

Towle and Nick Johnson will return kickoffs.

Mark Mueller is special teams coordinator.

GAME ON

The Raiders think they have the pieces to win football games, so they just need fans to help create home-field advantage at Caledonia Park. Erdman encouraged fans to see “the stars of the future” and promised family fun and great football.

“They’re going to see a high-powered offence, hopefully, and a team that’s going to go out there and try every day,” said O’Brien. “It should be good. It should be fun.”

The Raiders and the Langley Rams kick off on Saturday at 4 p.m. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, $5 for students and free for children five and under. For season ticket information, please visit www.viraiders.ca.

GRID BITS

After the game, there will be a fan and sponsor appreciation party at the Old City Station Pub … The V.I. Raiders are looking for statisticians for this season. Training will be provided. For information, please call Merv Unger at 250-616-0416 or e-mail merv.unger@shaw.ca.

sports@nanaimobulletin.com

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