In each of the last two seasons, the Okanagan Sun has fielded the No. 1 defense in all of Canadian junior football.
As the 2015 B.C. Football Conference season kicks off this weekend, veteran defensive Brennan Van Nistelrooy said his teammates are prepared to do everything in their power to uphold that standard.
“I don’t think we want to accept anything less than what we’ve done as a defence the last two years,” said Van Nistelrooy, an all-Canadian in 2014. “It’s been a strong point for our team and we take pride in the job we do.
“…and with the way our offense has been looking, if we play like we can, I think we’ll be a hard team to beat this season.”
Van Nistelrooy and the Sun raise the curtain on the new BCFC season Saturday at home to the Westshore Rebels. Kick off at the Apple Bowl is 7 p.m.
The defence—which yielded just 139 points in 10 games last year—saw several key departures from last season with the likes of Robbie Yochim, Dexter Janke, Ron Mwamba and Zak Ironstand all graduating from the program.
But with an aggressive off-season of recruiting from head coach Shane Beatty and some talented new additions, first-year defensive coordinator Mike Botterill likes the Sun’s defensive potential again in 2015.
Still, Botterill assures nothing is a given and the defense has been working hard to be prepared for the new season.
“We’re not going to rest on our laurels, the guys are going to come out and battle from the start,” said Botterill, who is in his second season on the coaching staff. “We’ve got a good group of returning guys and we have some excellent new players.
“The guys have been flying around, I really like their work ethic and I’m excited to watch them play.”
With a new system in place on the other side of the ball, the Sun offense has also been generating some excitement in the pre-season.
Beatty has taken over the reins as offensive coordinator, while quarterbacks coach Greg Patchell and receivers coach Tommy Howes will also have input in their rookies seasons on the staff.
Based partially on Beatty’s coaching background in the American college game, Patchell said the Sun offense will look considerably different in 2015.
“We’ve put in a completely new offence, it will have a much different look and feel than it did before,” said Patchell. “It’ll be fast-paced with lots of motion, and we’re going to try and keep other teams guessing.”
Second-year running back Kasey Russell counts himself among the many Sun players who are excited to put the new offence into effect.
“Shane has brought that American feel to the offence, there’s real mix of things and a lot of options,” said the 240-pound Russell, who scored seven touchdowns on just eight carries last season. “I think we’re going to be tough to lock down, we have a lot of great athletes, so it should be a lot of fun.”
When it comes to the quarterbacking position, Patchell said a clear No. 1 hasn’t yet been singled out, so Cam Bedore and Josiah Joseph will both takes reps on Saturday against the Rebels. Rookie Keith Zyla is also likely to see some time at the controls, Patchell said.
One challenge the Sun offence may face this weekend is the health of the offensive line as two all-Canadians, Michele Vecchio and Cliff Crews, have been battling injuries.
Still, thanks to their overall depth, the Sun heads into its 2015 season opener confident and ready to roll.
“The guys are super excited and anxious to get going,” said Patchell. “We’ve dialed the roster down to 55, the guys have been working hard and preparing themselves well, so everyone’s ready to go.”