Okanagan Sun head coach Ben Macauley will have more coaches to lean on when the team gets down to preparing for the 2017 BC Football League season.
The Sun announced this week it had made significant additions to its coaching staff for the upcoming season.
Most notably is Jason Casey, who will work with the defensive line and special teams.
Casey previously served as head coach of the team in 2011. Prior to that, he was an assistant with the team.
Including Casey, the team has added six new assistant coaches, three on offence and three on defence. A seventh will be added shortly to work with the receivers.
Macauley says the additions are not through attrition.
"One of the things we talked about at the end of the season was a need for more full-time coaches," said Macauley. "Now, we have a full-time guy at each position, and potentially an assistant at each position."
Macauley expected a hard time recruiting and keeping full-time coaches, but said it was quite the opposite.
With the strides made by the team last season, and the tradition of the program, he found there was no shortage of guys who wanted to be involved.
And, the additions will make Macauley's job a lot easier.
"It's not just more coaches, but it's guys I can trust. Guys that are highly recommended, and if it's not guys I know myself, they have connections to guys we've worked with in the past.
"It allows me to, not only delegate more – which I didn't do last year because my trust level wasn't there, but when I'm delegating, knowing things are going to get done."
Along with recruiting coaches, Macauley is also busy recruiting players for the upcoming season.
At the moment, he said, he's not focusing on any one position, but trying instead to identify who will be available and who will be heading to university ball.
There are some big holes to fill on the offensive and defensive lines and linebacker through graduation.
And, while it's next to impossible to replace the likes of Jonas Gering, Lucas Machado and Layne Hull, Macauley said it's their job to find players who can develop into top line talent.
The Sun will hold their annual spring camp in May before gearing up for main camp and the start of the regular season.
The 2017 schedule has not yet been released.
The BCFC's Valley Huskers have found their man.
The club announced today Robert Reist has been hired as head coach for the coming 2017 season.
He replaces Jason Quinter, who was fired after the club lost their first six games of the 2016 season. The club's assistant coaches shared coaching duties for the balance of what was an 0-10 season.
Reist is no stranger to the BCFC. He was a league all-star with the Abbotsford Airforce in 2001 and 2002.
He was also named an All-Canadian and BCFC Outstanding Defensive Back in 2002.
Reist moved on to the University of Manitoba, where he captained the Bisons for three of his four years in Manitoba.
He was named the university's male athlete of the year in 2008.
Following his playing career, Reist moved into coaching, eventually landing a job as defensive backs coach with the Bisons in 2011.
He is currently the linebackers/special teams coach at U of M.
In 2010, he developed a program called “Recruit Ready” fo young players who wish to develop their skills in preparation for junior football. He will continue to offer this very successful program with hopes of recruiting some talent for this next season.
What plagued the Okanagan Sun all season came back to haunt them again in Saturday's BC Football Conference final.
The offence was inconsistent during the decisive first half in a 32-21 defeat at the hands of the regular season champion WestShore Rebels.
Four first half turnovers and timely penalties killed Sun drives as they dug themselves a 25-0 hold after the first 30 minutes.
Two of those turnovers led directly to 10 Rebel points. The last, a Foster Martens interception, came in the dying second of the half with the Sun driving deep in Victoria territory.
Offensive player of the year Jamal Lyles got the Rebels on the board with a 14-yard touchdown. Moments later, after Martens was stripped of the football, Kyle Clarke connected from 12-yards out to put the Rebels up 10-0.
Quarterback Ashton MacKinnon tossed a pair of touchdown passes in the second quarter to put the Rebels up 25-0.
He hit Tyvonn Blake from 39-yards out after a successful fake punt and Birhanu Yitna from nine-yards out following a second Sun fumble in the dying moments of the half.
The Rebels took the opening kickoff of the second half and drove the length of the field, capped by Mackinnon's 14-yard TD strike to Trey Campbell. It was his third touchdown toss of the game.
It gave the Rebels some unanticipated breathing room as the Sun, behind quarterback Keith Zyla, tried to mount a second half comeback.
Zyla drove the Sun down the field on his first possession, capped off with a one-yard run.
He hit Shamar Donalson with a five-yard strike on the final play of the third quarter before Kyler Mosely ran in from three-yards out with 10 minutes left in the game to trim the lead to 11.
The Sun had chances later in the quarter, but gave the ball away four more times, a fumble, interception and twice on downs.
The Rebels are Cullen Cup champions for the first time since 2003, when they also defeated the Sun.
They will host the Canadian Bowl in two weeks against the winner of Sunday's Prairie Conference final between the Calgary Colts and Saskatoon Hilltops.
If the first two meetings between these teams is any indication, the BC Football conference final should be knock-down, drag-out fight.
The Cullen Cup championship game between the defending champion Okanagan Sun and Westshore Rebels in the Victoria suburb of Langford Saturday will not only crown a new league champion, but will also determine who hosts the Canadian Bowl in two weeks time.
Saturday's game should be a classic high powered offence versus stingy defence.
The Rebels come in with the number one offence in the league while the Sun had arguably the number one defence.
The Sun were able to keep league rushing leader Jamal Lyles in check. Lyles, who rambled for 1,604 yards during the season, was held to just 199 yards over the two meeting with the Sun.
However, he did find the end zone three times, two of those in the Rebels 29-23 win over the Sun on the island.
Sun head coach Ben Macauley said stopping Lyles is the key to any success the Sun will have Saturday.
"As long as we are playing fundamental football in the secondary with our coverage, we like our odds in the passing game, so we'd like to shut down their run," said Macauley before boarding the team bus for Victoria.
"Then we force them to do something thy haven't done as well, and that's throw the ball consistently. They've made some big plays, but we're OK with one or two big plays."
Rebels quarterback Ashton Mackinnon did have some success throwing the ball in their win over the Sun. He completed 15 of 28 passes for 262 yards, but also threw three interceptions.
That day, the offence was unable to take advantage of those mistakes.
And, while he agrees it is a classic match-up, Macauley thinks a third phase of the game could be the determining factor.
"One of the biggest things we haven't really touched on this year from a media standpoint is special teams. We started out pretty rough in that area but we've improved.
"We have a great defence, but at times we have been putting our defence in positions where they are in no-win situations. Even if we are struggling on offence, we're able to win the field-position battle and make their drives very long."
He said if teams have to drive the ball the length of the field on a continuous basis, it could wear them down.
Offensively, Foster Martens will likely get the call under centre to start the game. Martens left the semi-final game early after taking a knock to the head. The extra week off helped him get ready for Saturday.
Martens was consistent against the Rebels, completing 27 of 38 passes for 379 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He was not intercepted.
But, the team will have to move the ball, at least consistently enough, to have a chance.
Macauley said the offence has had to fight through a lot of inconsistencies with so many new faces on that side of the ball.
But, he said, they have found an identity, which is to line up with a lot of different looks and formations.
Saturday's game kicks off at 4 p.m.
The Okanagan Sun got a chance to relax Monday following a heart-stopping semi-final Sunday afternoon.
If you missed it, the Sun booted a 34-yard field goal in overtime Sunday afternoon in a 26-23 win over the Langley Rams in the BCFC semi-final.
Monday, it was awards night.
A time to celebrate individual accomplishments in a season in which the team finished second with a 7-3 record.
Linebacker Layne Hull, the heart and soul of the defence, walked away with two pieces of hardware, including the club's most valuable player.
Hull was also named the team's top linebacker for a second straight year.
Offensive lineman Michele Vecchio and defensive back Jamie Turek were also double award winners.
Vecchio, a Rutland Senior grad, was named top Okanagan high school player, and shared most popular player with running back Kasey Russell.
Turek was named most inspirational, in memory of JT Fernandez and shared top defensive back with Beck Fullerton.
Other award winners include:
- Scoring Leader – Kealey Heintz (Kicker)
- Community Award – Kian Ishani (Receiver)
- Most Improved Player – Tye Kitzman (Defensive Back)
- Most Sportsmanlike Player – Foster Martens (Quarterback)
- Special Teams Player – Eli Haynes (Linebacker)
- Top Offensive Back – Kasey Russell (Running Back)
- Top Receiver – Lliam Wishart
- Top Defensive Lineman – Jonas Gering (second consecutive year)
- Top Offensive Lineman – Quinn Horton
- Rookie of the Year – Conor Richard (Linebacker), and Liam Hamlyn (Offensive Line)
The Sun will now begin preparation for the Westshore Rebels in the CJFL Canadian Bowl BC Conference Cullen Cup Championship game on Saturday Oct. 29 at the Westhills Stadium in Victoria.
The winner of that game will host the 2016 Canadian Bowl on Nov. 12.
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