After an aggressive and thorough off-season of recruiting, the Okanagan Sun coaching staff is about to realize the fruits of its labours.
More than 100 players, including close to 60 newcomers, will take to the Apple Bowl/Parkinson practise fields this weekend for the B.C. Football Conference team’s annual spring camp.
Head coach Ben Macauley said along with assistant coaches Nathan Mollard and Johannes Van Leenen, the Sun scoured the country to ensure the club hits the ground running in 2018.
“Since the end of last season, it’s been full speed ahead,” said Macauley, entering his third season at the helm. “We travelled as far as Halifax, we really hit the gas to build the depth of our club. You only go as far as your players will take you and we feel with the work that’s been done, we’re in a good place.
“As an organization, we need to keep moving forward and raising the bar.”
Among the newcomers Macauley hopes will push the Sun standard higher is quarterback Jakob Loucks from Cornwall, Ont. The 20-year-old pivot started the last two seasons for the Mt. Allison Mounties and in 2016 and was named U SPORTS’ rookie of year.
Gabe Olivares, the backup last season for the UBC Thunderbirds, will also be in the mix at quarterback, along with last season’s backup-turned-starter, Nick Wenman.
Joining Loucks at Sun camp from Mt. Allison are receiver Malcolm Miller and linebacker Matt Ibbitson.
With former all-Canadian Beck Fullerton graduating, the Sun is looking for Jordan Rae—along with returning all-Canadian Tye Kitzman—to be a stabilizing force in the defensive backfield. Rae is a former Alberta Golden Bear and played last season with the Prairie Football Conference’s Calgary Colts.
“He’s the spitting image of Beck (Fullerton),” Macauley said of Rae. “We think he’ll be an all-Canadian.”
Macauley expects the offensive line to be bolstered with the addition of Brendan Barnes, a former UBC Thunderbird who stands in a 6-foot-7, 300 pounds, and Danil Bilan, a 315-pounder from Montreal.
The Sun staff is also sees potential in a pair of prospects from Edmonton, receiver Nathan Falito and linebacker Dillon Williams.
Among the key returnees expected to lead the Sun this season is linebacker Tyler Going, who earned an invitation to B.C. Lions’ camp.
The offensive line will be anchored by Marshall Klein, Liam Hamlyn and James Harney, while Conner Novak, Elias Rodriquez and Cory McCoy all return on the D-line.
The Sun have depth in the offensive backfield with the return of veterans Kelton Kouri, Brendan Hansen and Abdi-Nasir Abdi, while Spencer Schmidt and Kyler Mosley, if he returns, should provide experience on the receiving corps.
Last year’s starting quarterback Keith Zyla is returning, but Macauley said the Sun will likely use his talents elsewhere on the field.
Sun camp opens Friday night, with two sessions each set for Saturday and Sunday.
Okanagan kicks off the 2018 BCFC season Sunday, Aug. 5 in Kamloops.
Former Okanagan Sun receiver Rashaun Simonise was chosen 12th overall by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the 2018 Canadian Football League draft.
The 6-foot-4, 202-pound Vancouver native played seven games over two seasons with the Sun, 2016 and 2017, making 23 receptions for 392 yards and three touchdowns.
Simonise was an all-Canadian at the University of Calgary in 2015 and a season later, was invited to the camp of the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals.
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