On Saturday night, the Sun look to begin the 2017 campaign with a much different feel when they play host to the rival and defending champion Westshore Rebels.
It was the Rebels who halted Okanagan’s Canadian Bowl hopes last October with a victory over them in the Cullen Cup final in Victoria.
While a little payback may be in the back of a few minds of Sun players, head coach Ben Macauley says that’s in the past.
“There might be some carry over from that game, we feel like they didn’t necessarily beat us as much we allowed that to happen,” said Macauley. “But that’s in the past. It’s a big rivalry and the guys are excited to play them and get the season under way.
“We don’t want to place too much importance on this game, it’s our first and we’re not going to base our whole season on it,” Macauley added. “Of course we want to come out and play well, but it’s about getting better and improving with each week.”
With a full season now under his belt, plenty of experience on the coaching staff, a solid returning corps, and a strong recruiting class, Macauley says the Sun is well ahead of where it was 12 months ago, describing the difference as “night and day.”
Fifth-year linebacker Eli Haynes is on board with his head coach.
“Things have been better this season from the get-go,” said Haynes, one of the key leaders on the Sun defense this season. “The (coaches) did a great job of recruiting, the guys they brought in are all really good guys and have all fit in well.
“We had a good training camp, we’ve prepared well, so we’re excited to get at it.”
As for the Rebels, the defending champs have undergone a number of changes on both sides of the ball since last season, including the loss of all-star running back, Jamal Lyles.
Regardless, Macauley expects the Rebels to bring a solid game plan into the Apple Bowl on Saturday night.
“There a lot of new faces there we don’t know a lot about, it’s hard to know what to expect, but we do expect them to be competitive,” Macauley said. “We’re playing against the defending champs, so it’ll be a good gauge for us to see where we stand.”
Kick off at the Apple Bowl between the Sun and Westshore is 7 p.m. on Saturday.
Sun in top 50
Five members of the Sun have cracked the Canadian Junior Football League’s annual rankings of the top 50 players in the country.
The players selected and their overall ranking:
• 27—Conor Richard, linebacker
• 35—Beck Fullerton, defensive back
• 39—Eli Haynes, linebacker
• 43—Cory McCoy, defensive line
• 47—Brendan Hansen, running back