A 2013 season that ended at least a couple of weeks too soon for new coach Shane Beatty, still produced plenty of positives for the Okanagan Sun.
An 8-2 record, a second-place finish in the BCFC and a home playoff game all spoke to a much improved on-field product for a team that was in relative disarray just 12 months earlier.
Club president Paul Carson said Beatty, a former Sun player with U.S. college coaching experience, brought a new attitude and focus to the football club in 2013.
“Shane did a great job with the team, not just with the performance on the field but with the whole structure as well,” said Carson. “With the recruiting he did, working with the assistant coaches, Shane did a lot of good things from the day he arrived here.”
Coming off a 3-7 season under Gavin Lake in 2012, the Sun launched an exhaustive and thorough search for a new head coach who was capable of turning around a stumbling team in short order.
It didn’t take long for Beatty’s intensity, knowledge and passion for the game to pay dividends for the Sun.
“Shane’s got a lot of experience at different levels, so one thing he brought right away was credibility,” said Carson. “He was instrumental in getting acceptance quickly and, it’s an overused term, but there was a real buy-in from the players.
“He was demanding and hard on the players, but they recognized there is a benefit that goes with that and it showed on the field.”
Not on the job until last March, Beatty had to work quickly and efficiently to prepare the Sun for the 2013 season.
A roster half-filled with new players and one of the league’s youngest teams at his disposal, Beatty admits even he was surprised at how quickly the Sun came together on the field.
“Honestly, when I got here I didn’t know how we were going to do,” said Beatty, a former linebacker with the Sun in 1990. “I thought we had some decent athletes, but I was a little skeptical about the level we’d be able to compete at.
“But the guys gelled really fast and they believed in each other. Our motto was to go 1-0 each week, not to look ahead. And once we started collecting victories, their confidence grew and grew. We had a lot of great veteran leadership, too, guys like (Jack) Rush, (Brennan) Van Nistelrooy and (Devon) Kozar were all huge for us.”
Kozar, who shifted from the defensive line to the offensive side of the ball this season, spent three seasons with the Sun and, not surpassingly, found the 2013 campaign under Beatty to be the most enjoyable and fulfilling yet.
The Manitoba native only wishes he had a couple of more years of eligibility left.
“With Coach Beatty running the show, I think a solid foundation has been built here and it’s going to be something special here for years to come,” Kozar said. “Everyone here has bought in and I think it’s going to be a great place to play junior football from here on in.”
A diligent recruiter, Beatty is already pounding the pavement for next season and hopes to compile a list of 25 top-end players who will come in and compete for starting jobs in 2014.
With the steps the club took this season and the structure the club now has in place, Beatty expects a deeper and stronger Sun team in 2014.
“I’m excited and I think the kids coming back are excited, too,” said Beatty, whose club saw its season end with a 24-13 home playoff loss to Langley on Oct. 13. “This year ended on a bit of a sour note, so we have some unfinished business to take care of.
“I thought we made huge strides, we still have a lot of room to grow, but I think this team is only going to improve, and get better and better.”
“I know (Shane’s) expectations are to once again improve and in the end, find ourselves winning a BCFC championship,” added Paul Carson. “Anything less than that would not be a success for him.”
While the BCFC will be the Sun’s focus again next season, virtually every move the club makes from now on will also relate to the organization’s long-term future.
If all goes as planned, the Sun could be members of the Canada West university conference, under the banner of UBC Okanagan, by as early as the 2015 or 2016 seasons.
As part of the transition, Shane Beatty hopes to have as many as 40 players on his roster enrolled in university classes next season.
As for the Sun’s anticipated move to the CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport) within the next two to three years, Carson said the club and UBC Okanagan are focused on a common goal.
“We’re already planning from a team standpoint (for the CIS) and we have to operate that way,” Carson said. “We’re still playing in the BCFC and have to be focused on the immediate needs but we also need to be fully prepared when the time comes to move.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done, a lot of legwork, but I think both sides are motivated and excited to see this happen.”
UBC Okanagan has until August 2014 to file an official application for a Canada West football program.