With the start of the B.C. Football Conference season still two months away, the message from head coach Ben Macauley is already crystal clear—this year’s Okanagan Sun will play with physicality, grit and resolve.
At the club’s annual spring camp, the Sun coaching staff had a good look at the new crop of recruits who will help carry out that mantra in 2017.
With soaring temperatures and injuries plaguing close to 20 players, the three-day camp was a test of will and resilience, characteristics Macauley said will be imperative for his team this season.
“We don’t want to be a team who relies on talent, we want to be a team that relies on hard work and making teams a little bit nervous to play us because of the physical stuff,” said Macauley, entering his second season as the Sun’s head man.
“A lot of our first-line guys were injured, so the young guys got more repetition. We saw a little of who’s got competition in them and who are the fighters.
“We have to have a team that’s resilient. Our coaching staff will be pushing them, not just physically but mentally.”
Among the newcomers to impress the Sun was Matthew Panattoni, a 6-foot-2, 230 pound linebacker from Aden Bowman Collegiate in Saskatoon. “He’s really athletic and made some big plays out there,” Macauley said.
Macauley also lauded the effort of KSS grad Cole Stregger, a second-year defensive back who made some big strides over the winter. “Cole really surprised us because he wasn’t that involved last year, but he really had a good off-season and came in prepared,” said Macauley. “He made some really good plays in the scrimmage.”
Macauley was also encouraged by the performance of quarterback Keith Zyla who “looks pretty confident” and is returning to take on the No. 1 job.
As for his second tour of duty at the Sun’s helm, Macauley said he and his supporting staff will be better prepared and should hit the ground running when the season kicks off.
“It’ll be about preparation, we’ll have a better idea what to expect,” said Macauley, who has a coaching staff of 18 to work with in 2017. “Last year we got bogged down with administrative stuff when we should have been worrying about football. I expect this time the focus to be on football when it comes to July 14 (training camp).”
The Sun will open the BCFC season July 29 at home to the defending champion Westshore Rebels.
The Rebels defeated the Sun in last year’s Cullen Cup final.
Comeau brings size, raw potential
Prior to last weekend, Carter Comeau had never played a single down of football.
Following the Okanagan Sun’s 2017 spring camp, a career on the gridiron just might be in the cards for the Riverton, Manitoba native.
The 6-foot-6, 330-pound Comeau, who grew up playing hockey and is a linesman in the B.C. Hockey League, had never entertained the notion of playing football—until two co-workers in Port Alberni suggested he give it a whirl.
“I never considered it, but then they told me about the Okanagan Sun and I thought, OK, I’ll give it a try,” said Comeau, 21.
His first text to Ben Macauley inquiring about an invitation to spring camp went unanswered, but when the second text revealed Comeau’s size, the Sun head coach was quick to respond.
“He said he hadn’t played football and had played hockey, so I didn’t think much of it to start with,” said Macauley. “But when he texted again that he was 6-6 and 330, I picked up the phone right away and called him.”
Slotted in on the defensive line, Comeau got his first taste of football over three days at the team’s spring camp.
While the learning curve will be sizeable, Macauley can’t help but be impressed with Comeau’s athleticism and intrigued by his potential.
“He’s really raw. He hadn’t even put on pads, he had them on backwards the first day,” Macauley said with smile. “But after that first practise, he was a physical force. He’s 330 and there’s not much fat on him at all. He’s athletic and has good, quick feet for his size.
“He’s a specimen, for sure. He’ll be a project, but he knows what it’s like to compete and work hard to play at a high level.”
For Comeau’s part, taking a crack at football is a new adventure, one he plans to throw all his energies towards.
“It’s all new to me, so it’s like being a kid again,” Comeau said. “It’s going to be fun, there’s going to be some ups and downs for sure, but the more I’m into it and longer I’m here, there should be more ups.
“I do feel like I can do this,” he added. “I know it’s a big learning curve, but I’m in the gym all the time, always trying to get better.”
As for his impressions of Kelowna and the Sun football club, Comeau couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to either.
“It’s unreal here, a really nice place,” said Comeau, who had plenty of support from returning Sun players during camp.
“I had a million questions, and there were so many guys to talk to. Answers galore, everybody was so helpful. That makes it a lot more comfortable.”