It’s the start of a new season and things are a little bit different for the V.I. Raiders.
A new head coach and a new general manager have been entrusted to lead Nanaimo’s B.C. Football Conference team and carry on the program’s winning tradition.
Coach Curtis Vizza and GM Josh Williams have steered this year’s Raiders club through the off-season and pre-season, which is rapidly drawing to a close. The season kicks off this Saturday, Aug. 3, in Langley.
The Raiders are happy with the progression to this point.
“Everybody’s here for the same goal and that’s to win,” said Williams. “So they don’t get negative with each other, they don’t get down on each other. They know that they’re there to push each other and make themselves a better team.”
Vizza and Williams have won championships with the Raiders as players and as assistant coaches. They know what it takes to win, they say, and they can tell that this year’s Raiders have the traits of winners.
“As a team, we’re pushing doubt away in every aspect,” Vizza said. “We’re going to be there every weekend to take two points. Whether we get it or not is going to be based on our efforts and only the things that we can control. I feel like we’re going to find winning ways and this group’s going to go somewhere special.”
The Raiders have a veteran leadership group, they say, that is helping to lead a “very positive” vibe, with the vets challenging but supporting the newcomers. They feel they have talent at all position groups.
“We’re going to have a strong offence; I think our passing game will be hard to compete with,” said Vizza. “I think our defence as a whole, how it’s been schemed and who’s in there, DBs, linebackers, D-line, we’re strong.”
Leading the offence will be veteran quarterback Jake Laberge, who coaches say worked hard in the off-season and is ready. He’ll have his favourite targets back in receivers Mike West, Eli Nelms-Horton and North Rainey, and Will Adams is an exciting addition to the pass-catching corps.
Andre Goulbourne moves up to become the Raiders’ starting tailback this year and is expected to be effective with his power game.
Newcomer Reagan Calvin, at centre, has become an immediate anchor of the offensive line, where he will be joined by Braydon Winger, Zack Willis and others.
Todd Hansen is offensive coordinator.
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— Greg Sakaki (@BulletinSports) August 1, 2019
On defence, V.I.’s DB corps will be a strength again this year, led by returnees Jérémie Cheng and Gevhahn McNally-Hardisty and newcomer Blake Johnson. Nathan Cayouette is another standout among the additions to the defensive backfield and Barsby Bulldogs product Jacub Gillman has won the starting safety job.
The D-line features Doug Thornton, who returns to the Raiders after a year away from the club, and Doyle Westlund. Matt Hill is another returnee while hockey player Nick Robinson has not only made the football team, but will be a key contributor.
The linebacking unit will include Tyler Hill and Ethan Moran and Trystin Waters moves from offensive line to join the group. Barsby grad Zach Taylor is also in the mix for playing time.
Karim Maher is defensive coordinator.
The strength of the Raiders’ special teams will be punter and placekicker Nik Hunchak, whom the coach considers the “best kicker in the country.”
Vizza said he’s proud of his guys, because coaches have asked a lot of players and they’ve answered at every turn.
In some respects, the Raiders know what they’ve got, but on the other hand, they won’t know until they line up against an opposing team for real. In Week 1, it’s the Langley Rams.
“We’re playing the defending champs. They’re going to be good,” Vizza said. “We’re going to compete. This is going to be a fight.”
GAME ON … The Raiders play the Langley Rams in the Fraser Valley on Aug. 3, visit the Westshore Rebels in Victoria on Aug. 10 and then host the Kamloops Broncos on Aug. 17 at Caledonia Park.