It wasn’t as if Devon Kozar needed a lot of convincing.
Fellow Manitobans Danny Turek, Tommy Howes and Dayton White had already sold the 6-foot-4, 275-pound defensive lineman on the perks of living and playing football in the Okanagan.
Still, Kozar wanted to experience Kelowna and the Okanagan Sun for himself before making a final decision. It didn’t take long for the Portage la Prairie native to make up his mind.
“The moment I got off the plane, it was top of the line hospitality, the camp was great, the weather, the city is great…everything about it,” said Kozar, 20. “I know some of the guys already and the others all welcomed me. As far as it looks now I’ll be here for the 2011 season and I’m pretty excited.”
Kozar was one of close to 80 new recruits to take to the field Saturday and Sunday for the 2011 edition of the Sun’s spring camp.
After a short stay at Minot State in 2009, Kozar red-shirted last season with the University of Manitoba Bisons.
Sun GM Howie Zaron looks for Kozar to make an immediate impact.
“He’s a big kid, strong, and he’ll be an anchor down the middle of the D-line for us,” said Zaron. “He looked really good.”
Another newcomer to turn heads on the weekend was quarterback Jeremy Joseph, a Winnipeg native who spent last season with St. Francis Xavier’s CIS program in Halifax.
With incumbent starter Bobby Davis returning for his No. 1 job, head coach Jason Casey said the Sun will have the luxury of employing two capable pivots.
“Bobby and JJ are so different in some ways,”said Casey. “They both read really well, and out of the pocket so dangerous. Jeremy will make guys miss, and Bobby will run them over. The thing is they are both leaders, you could see that they both have the experience that you need in a quarterback if you are going to win a championship. They both coach up their teammates, that’s huge for us. They run the show when they are on the field.”
Among the dozens of talented new recruits to be invited back for main camp in July, GM Zaron also liked what he saw from Brennan Van Nistelrooy, an agile defensive back and kicker from Lethbridge.
The 18-year-old Van Nistelrooy not only enjoyed the camp itself, but is also intrigued by the potential of the team one day moving up to the university level in Canada West.
“To hear that they might be going CIS in a few years really is interesting,” said Van Nistelrooy, a Grade 12 student at Catholic Central in Lethbridge. “I’ve always wanted to play university ball, but this could be a good start for me, play a couple of years of junior in a great place, then see what happens. I might take a little time to decide, but hopefully I’ll make the decision to come and play here.”
Among the many local first-timers to leave an positive impression with the Sun GM were two Mt. Boucherie grads: running back Mikael Maloff and defensive back Wes Geisler.
As for the 40 or so veterans who attended spring camp, perhaps none impressed the Sun staff more than Daniel Xavier. Unable to break through as a running back his first three seasons, the fourth-year Vancouver product switched to linebacker last season.
But in Sunday’s scrimmage—with last season’s No. 1 back Armand Bokitch sidelined—Xavier proved an elusive target when running the ball, scoring on a 70-yard touchdown run.
Jason Casey was duly impressed.
“He’s been a long time coming, to come out of the shadows to be a running back,” Casey said of Xavier. “He was expected to stand out and he came forward.”
Several veterans did not dress for camp due to injuries or other commitments.
Safety Daylon Pommier had just returned from Montreal and a visit to Concordia University where former Sun teammates Max Caron and Paul Spencer are both current members of the Stingers. Pommier, a Rutland grad, is as of yet undecided on whether to play his fifth and final season of junior ball, or begin his CIS career.
“You can’t fault guys for going out to test the waters, they should take the opportunity to explore what’s out there” said Casey. “But we want our experienced veterans to know we want them all back.”
In Sunday’s scrimmage, Team Paragon Pharmacy defeated Team JDS Mining 42-21.
The Sun expect between 80 and 90 players to attend the club’s main training camp in July.
The Sun open the 2011 BCFC season Saturday, July 31 in Kamloops against the Broncos.