Even though it’s three provinces, two time zones and 1,900 kilometres away, the city of Winnipeg is likely to play a prominent role in the success of the Okanagan Sun in 2013.
Between returning players and new recruits, the B.C. Football Conference Club could have as many as 16 players from the Manitoba capital in its lineup this season.
All will be testing the waters in Kelowna this weekend at the Sun’s annual spring camp.
Among new Winnipeggers already committed to the Sun is Lucas Machado, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound linebacker from the St. Paul’s High School Crusaders.
Machado, who was key in St. Paul’s run to the Manitoba title in 2011, said the honesty and infectious enthusiasm of new Sun head coach Shane Beatty sold the young linebacker on making the big trip west.
“It was Coach Beatty, for sure,” said Machado, 18. “Obviously they have a great support staff there, too, but (Shane) was the main reason. He was texting me everyday, he’s been very up front and honest and you don’t have to read between the lines with him. He’s made me very excited about being in Kelowna and I’m excited to get started.”
Beatty has been working on some other potential key recruits from Winnipeg, many of whom are also being courted by the Vancouver Island Raiders.
Six-foot-five quarterback Theo Deezar, along a pair of 6-foot-5 receivers—Zach Regert and Paul Childs—will be at spring camp and are all Winnipeg products who Beatty would love to see wearing orange and brown.
“These guys would be impact players,” Beatty said. “All of them are big and strong, and good kids who would be great additions to our team.”
The Manitoba capital has provided the Sun with some key players in the past, including the likes of Adam Eckert, Dan Turek and Jordan Fast.
As many as six Manitoba natives are expected to return in 2013, including Tommy Howes, Jamie Turek, Sean Mason and Devon Kozar (Portage la Prairie), all of whom proved to be helpful to Beatty when it came to recruiting in their home province.
If the Sun end up with 15 or more Manitobans on the roster, it will be unprecedented territory.
“We’ve always had a few Winnipeg guys on the team, but nothing like this I can recall would rival this,” said Sun head coach Jay Christensen. “It’s a combination of things, the guys from Winnipeg who we have playing with us have rallied the troops and have generated a lot of interest in our team. It’s also a bit of a bubble we haven’t seen, where there are a lot of players from there who are available and looking for places to play.”
Shane Beatty will conduct his first spring camp as head coach of the Sun this weekend, with between 90 and 110 players expected to go through the paces.
Beatty is excited to get a firsthand look at the the club’s prospective talent as the Sun looks to rebound from a disappointing 3-and-7 performance in 2012.
“It’s a great opportunity to see what we have and to see what we still need,” said Beatty. “Camp should answer a lot of questions. I haven’t seen the kids perform yet, so we should get a good evaluation of the talent and a good start to the season.”
Beatty expects 46 to 48 returnees at camp and close to the same number of newcomers, including 20 to 25 from Kelowna and area high schools.
Practises are set for 9:45 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturday at the Apple Bowl/Parkinson practise fields.
On Sunday, practise begins at 9 a.m., followed by a scrimmage that is expected to run until about 1:30 p.m.