The Okanagan Sun will become familiar with the road when they open defence of their B.C. Football Conference championship.
The Sun open the 2016 regular season with two games on the road before finally having a chance to play before the hometown faithful.
The BCFC schedule, released Friday, has the Sun opening on the road in Chilliwack July 23, followed by a game in Kamloops the week after.
The home opener is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 6, when they team hosts the Westshore Rebels.
That game will provide an additional boost following the departure former head coach Shane Beatty. He joined the staff in Victoria as assistant head coach, strength coach and director of player development.
The Sun will close out the regular season at home to the Langley Rams Oct. 2.
The league has returned to a balanced schedule for 2016, however, the addition of a regular season game with the Saskatoon Hilltops means the Valley Huskers will not make an appearance at the Apple Bowl this year.
“I'm excited looking at the 2016 schedule. I like to look at the whole journey right now before we buckle down and focus on the week-by-week and day-by-day work that goes into the regular season," said new Sun head coach Ben Macauley.
"There is certainly a buzz about Saskatoon coming to town and we have already had former players from Canada reaching out, saying they are making a special trip out just for that game. It's at a time when we expect to be getting close to playing our best ball of the year, so having a great competitor on the schedule tests us when we need it most."
Three byes have also been built into the schedule.
Teams will not play during the Labour Day long weekend, the weekend following the conclusion of the regular season and the weekend before the league championship game.
The BCFC champion will host the Canadian Bowl Saturday, Nov. 12.
The Okanagan Sun will get a chance at redemption in an historic game at the Apple Bowl this season.
The Sun, who fell to the Saskatoon Hilltops 38-24 in last year's national championship game, will host the same Hilltops in a regular season game Saturday, Sept. 17.
The game is part of a ground breaking day in which the BCFC will host two regular season games against Prairie Junior Football League competition.
Earlier in the day, the Chilliwack Huskers will host the Winnipeg Rifles.
It's the first time in CJFL history teams from different conferences have met in a regular season game.
“I think it shows there's a real benefit to be part of the CJFL,” said CJFL commissioner Jim Pankovich.
“The teams in B.C. and the teams in the Prairies, play each other in their regular seasons, but what if we included some interconference games? What's the level of competition and is there an opportunity to look at it during the regular season?"
Pankovich says they were looking for competitive games, not just the top teams, all throughout both conferences.
"There is a lot of enthusiasm from the member teams. It’s a really interesting concept and a really interesting idea to bring forward because of the excitement and interest it can create. I’m looking forward to both games.”
Both games will count in league standings.
Winnipeg and Chilliwack have never played teams outside their conference, while the Sun have not hosted the Hilltops since the 2000 national championship game.
The Sun were 36-28 winners, capturing their second national title.
This will be the ninth meeting between the two teams. Saskatoon has won five of the previous eight.
The news comes on the heels of a previous announcement that the Ontario Football Conference would be returning to the CJFL in 2017.
The Ontario Conference left two seasons ago when they decided to allow 23 and 24 year old players to compete. Teams in B.C. and on the Prairies have an age limit of 22.
The complete BCFC schedule will be released next week.
Former Okanagan Sun linebacker Brennan Van Nistelrooy could find himself in a CFL uniform this season.
Van Nistelrooy, who graduated from the Sun following 4 seasons in junior football, has been invited to the CFL combine.
The combine, which brings together the top 35 draft-eligible players, will be held this coming weekend in Toronto.
Van Nistelrooy was invited to the three day event after a strong showing at the regional combine in Edmonton on Monday.
The Sun co-MVP clocked a blazing 6.95 seconds through the 3-cone drill, the fastest of any of the 41 players invited.
His other results include:
- 40 yard dash – 7.43 seconds
- Bench – 13
- Vertical – 35 inches
- Broad jump – 9-9.5
- Shuffle – 4.21 seconds
If Van Nistelrooy is selected in the CFL raft, he would become the second former player in as many years picked in the draft.
Defensive back Dexter Janke was taken by the Calgary Stampeders last year.
Receiver Kyle Kawamoto also had a strong showing in Edmonton. His results include:
- 40 yard dash – 4.67
- Bench – 15
- Vertical – 38
- Broad jump – 10-1.25
- Shuffle – 4.00
- 3-Cone – 7.00
Kawamoto is not eligible for the CFL draft, but could be signed by any of the nine teams as a free agent.
The Okanagan Sun didn't have to look far to find their new head coach.
Ben Macauley, who spent last season patrolling the sidelines for the KSS Owls, has been named the 16th coach in Sun history.
He replaces Shane Beatty, who stepped away after three years at the helm. Beatty led the Sun back to the national final this past season, losing out to the Saskatoon Hilltops.
Macauley led the Owls to a 4-2 regular season record in his lone season as coach. Overall, including exhibition and playoffs, the Owls went 9-3.
They beat No. 1 ranked Argyle 27-7 In the high school post season before bowing out in the quarterfinals to eventual champions Mount Douglas 51-13.
A former tight-end, Macauley was recruited by the USC Trojans, playing a season with their junior college program at Glendale College in California. However, multiple shoulder injuries ended his playing career.
“I’m excited work with a local, community-run team,” said Macauley.
“I have enjoyed my time getting to know everyone in the organization over the time I’ve been here (in Kelowna). This organization is a strong and proud one, and I’m honoured to be given the opportunity to take them to the next level.”
Sun president Bill Long said the organization is thrilled to have Macauley on board.
“He was on our radar right from the outset, and we actually interviewed him five years ago for a previous opening. We could see the potential then, but he just needed some more experience," said Long.
"He is exactly the type of person we want as a head coach – knowledgeable about the game, a man of integrity and character, and has the same vision of where we need to go not only as a team, but the entire organization.”
According to Long, the Sun received a dozen applications in just two days without having to post the position.
“We were very impressed by the quality of candidates we received from all across Canada, and even from an NCAA coach. It’s a testament to how coveted it is to coach in the Okanagan, and we were very flattered by that.”
Macauley says his top priority will be to contact all of the players eligible to return for the 2016 season. He will also take part in winter workouts at the CNC on Sundays, then sit down with the coaching staff and fill in the vacant spots.
A shocker from within the Okanagan Sun organization.
Just two months after leading the BCFC club to its first appearance in the national championship game in 11 year, Shane Beatty is stepping away from the organization.
In a news release Wednesday, the club announce it and Beatty have mutually agreed to part ways.
The announcement ends Beatty's three-year run as head coach of the football team. During that time, Beatty amassed a 27-3 regular season record, including a perfect 10-0 mark this past season.
He was named the Canadian Junior Football League's coach of the year in November.
Beatty helped turn around a Sun program that had floundered and lost its way prior to his arrival. The club struggled to keep up with the rest of the league on the field while operating with a revolving head coaching door.
When Beatty was hired in March 2013, he became the sixth head coach in as many years.
"We've got a lot of great things to say about Shane and the job he did. He came in and did exactly what we asked him to do, which was take a program that was struggling and get us back on our feet," said Sun GM Jay Christensen.
"He did that, but the long-term direction of the team is different between the board and Shane, and unfortunately it came to a point where we needed to part ways."
Beatty said it was a mutual decision.
"We had a great three years here. I loved the team, loved the kids, and we made some big strides," said Beatty.
"I'm really proud of these guys. But, we sat down at the end of the year and just couldn't come to a mutual agreement."
Beatty said he has put out some feelers with other teams in the BCFC, saying Kamloops could be an option.
He spent about 20 years coaching in the United States before returning home to coach the Sun. He hopes to stay in the province to coach.
Beatty does hope to continue training several members of the club through his role as a personal trainer.
Meanwhile, the Sun are again in the process of looking for a new head coach, the 16th in the team's 35-year history.
Christensen said the team will try to secure a head coach as soon as possible.
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