Just days before he joined the Okanagan Sun, Conor Richard had never heard of a place called Kelowna, B.C., Canada.
Less than two months later, the 18-year-old from Clarksville, Tennessee is making himself right at home in the Okanagan.
“I don’t know how anyone could get stressed out living here,” said the affable Richard, who grew up 40 minutes from Nashville. “(Kelowna’s) a beautiful place. I have no complaints.”
And it’s a good bet that the Sun have no complaints with Richard who has quickly made a name for himself in the B.C. Football Conference.
Lining up at defensive back and on special teams, the 5-foot-11, 205 pound Richard has been an impact player for the Sun, making eight tackles, intercepting a pass and blocking two kicks.
Playing football in the U.S. since the age of five, Sun head coach Ben Macauley said Richard came to Kelowna well-equipped with both skill and a keen knowledge of game.
His biggest challenge has been adjusting to the Canadian version of the sport, but Macauley said Richard’s progress has been steady.
“He’s had a lot of good coaching, so he’s very fundamentally sound,” said Macauley. “He’s still learning the Canadian game, 75 per cent of the U.S. game is running, so he’s not used to as much passing.
“But he’s phenomenal young man, we knew it was just matter of time before he really found his way in the game here. He’s just 18, so he’s just starting to scratch the surface of how good he can be.”
Born in St. John, New Brunswick and carrying dual Canadian-American citizenship, Richard moved to Tennessee with his family when he was an infant.
Sought after by a number of U.S. colleges during high school, but unsure of his football future, Richard moved north to Fort McMurray this spring to live with his dad, Greg.
The elder Richard, a former football player himself, inquired with one of his ex-teammates—Calgary Dinos assistant coach, Greg Antsey—about potential openings for his son.
Antsey then contacted Sun defensive coordinator Nathan Mollard, and days later, just prior to the start of the 2016 season, Richard was on a plane to Kelowna.
In addition to learning the cultural differences between life in Tennessee and the Okanagan, playing junior football in Canada has also been an eye opener.
“It’s a little different, the field is bigger, you have receivers in motion and the game is a little more strategic up here,” he said. “The speed of the (U.S.) game is faster, and a little more aggressive, teams try and run the ball down your throat. It’s different, but I’m having fun with it.”
Playing in Kelowna has helped rekindle Richard’s passion for the game and he’s now contemplating his future in football, most likely one day returning to the U.S. to play.
But for now, the 18-year-old Tennessean is grateful for the chance to play Canada’s junior game.
“Competition-wise it’s different, but it’s an honourable league, I can still get a good look here, and keep playing football,” he said. “I’m still young really young, I don’t have to come to any quick decisions, and I can take some time to figure out what I want to do.
“This turned out to be a pretty good situation for me,” he said. “Change is always good.”
Richard and the Sun (4-0) will put their unbeaten record on the line Saturday night when they play host to the Kamloops Broncos (0-4). Kick off at the Apple Bowl is 7 p.m.