With no fewer than seven veteran starters—including three all-Canadians—exiting from last year’s squad, there will be some sizable shoes to fill on the 2017 edition of the Okanagan Sun.
Just how the B.C. Football Conference club plans to compensate for those departures should be considerably clearer by this Sunday afternoon.
Head coach Ben Macauley and his staff will get their first substantial look at the club’s talent—both familiar and new—this weekend during the Sun’s annual spring camp.
“After a full off-season of recruiting, it’s going to be great to see these guys out on the field, and we’ll be able to find out if this is the right fit for them,” said Macauley, heading into his second season as the Sun’s head man. “Once we’ve got our guys, those are going to be our guys for the season.
“We’ll get to work on coaching them up and building this team up to a national championship level.”
Spring camp kicks off Friday night at the Parkinson practise fields, with sessions also set for Saturday and Sunday.
Under what’s been forecast as hot, sunny weather, close to 80 players are expected to go through the paces, including approximately 45 returnees.
With all-Canadian Jonas Gering and Lucas Machado having departed, Macauley said shoring up the defensive line could be the Sun’s biggest challenge in 2017. Among the new recruits is Zakk Fisher, a 6-foot-4 defensive end from Regina’s Riffel High School, while Connor Novak and Elias Rodriguez will provide veteran stability.
At linebacker, all-Canadian Layne Hull is gone, handing the leadership reins over to veteran Eli Haynes. Newcomers who could bolster the linebacking corps include Austin O’Brien from Edmonton, and Matthew Panattoni, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound graduate of Saskatoon’s Aden Bowman Collegiate.
In the defensive backfield, veterans Beck Fullerton and Raquille Cespedes will return, while recruits Etinosa Osarenkhoe and Georgia-born Wesley Bookland, both from Edmonton, will be given a good look by the Sun staff this weekend.
With all-Canadian Michele Vecchio and Quinn Horton gone from the offensive line—and Jeremy Williams returning—the Sun will look to pair key recruits to help bolster the position: Kyle Zale, an ex-national CJFL champ with the Saskatoon Hilltops, and Winnipeg native Marshall Klein from the University of Alberta.
“We’re excited about those two guys, Zale is a former national high school wrestling champ,” said Macauley, “And Klein would have been a starter this year at the U of A, so he’ll be a real nice addition.”
Also on offense, the athletically versatile Keith Zyla will return at quarterback, while second-year Sun players Brendan Hansen and Kelton Kouri will anchor the backfield.
At receiver, with Liam Wishart moving on to UBC, veterans Shamar Donelson and Kyler Mosley will be counted on for production and leadership in 2017.
Macauley will have plenty of help with both evaluation and instruction this season as the coaching staff has swelled to 18 members, many of whom have experience at several levels of football.
The three-day spring camp will wrap up Sunday with a 90-minute scrimmage beginning at 11 a.m.
The Sun will kick off the B.C. Football Conference’s regular season Saturday, July 27 at home to the defending champion Westshore Rebels.