Despite the Kamloops Broncos kicking off their 16th Canadian Junior Football League campaign with a road-heavy schedule, they know exactly where they want to be when the confetti flies this year — midfield at Hillside Stadium.
“We think it’s our time,” said Evan Mutrie, director of football operations for the B.C. Football Conference club.
“We have a lot of momentum coming into this season and we want to be in that top tier of teams in the country. We think we are more than capable at performing at that level.”
After four seasons with a record below .500 and a COVID-19 pandemic cancelled season, the Broncos have turned a corner recently in the BCFC. They snapped a 27-game winless drought with a monumental 18-7 win in October of 2021. With King Kong off their back, they rattled off a 4-6 record last year, narrowly missing a trip to the postseason.
The momentum from a turnaround season has clung to the locker room walls at Hillside Stadium as the Broncos’ staff noticed a change in attitude in training camp this year, which got underway on July 10.
“This group has easily the best mindset I’ve seen over the past several years,” said Mutrie, whose ties with the Broncos go back to his rookie year in 2013.
“This has been the most electricity I’ve seen in a training camp with this team. Our head coach, Braden Vankoughnett, brought in some great coordinators and has completely changed this groups’ mindset. The old ways of thinking are gone. This is a very focused group and we know what’s possible if we all come together and have a strong year.”
In order to get to where they want to go, the Broncos will have to run through a mini gauntlet to get their season underway following a Week 1 bye.
The track at Hillside Stadium has been under repair since June 12. As a result, the Broncos have held their training camp and scrimmages on the soccer field behind the stadium and will start the season with five-straight road games while City of Kamloops crews put the finishing touches on the track.
“We just need to push through these long road trips and keep grinding,” said second-year wide receiver Colton Meikle.
“Playing home games is something everyone looks forward to. So we need to stay focused, take care of business on the road and hopefully have some exciting games to finish the season off at home.”
The Westshore Rebels (1-0), who finished second in the conference last year at 7-3, welcome the Broncos on Aug. 5 at Starlight Stadium. After that, the Broncos travel to Kelowna to take on the defending national champion Okanagan Sun (1-0) on Aug. 12 before crossing their longest trip off the list on Aug. 19, when they head to Prince George to take on the Kodiaks (0-1) at Masich Place Stadium.
“These are all business trips for us,” Mutrie said. “If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.”
Alongside the best of the best is where the Broncos want to be this season, because it’s the BCFC’s turn to host the Canadian Bowl on Nov. 11 at the home location of the Cullen Cup winners against the winner between the Prairie Football Conference and the Ontario Football Conference.
“Winning the national championship at home is something we all talk about every day,” Meikle said. “That’s our goal and the mindset we are entering this season with.”
Mutrie thinks he has the pieces in place to take the team there.
Fans can expect to see a few different looks behind centre this year, as the Broncos believe they plan to start Week 2 with a two-quarterback system.
Three-year vet Clark Snider will split the early pivot duties with Josh Charison, a former member of the Valley Huskers. Snider knows the playbook like the back of his hand, having been in the system for a few years, while Charison has the arm to make every throw Vankoughnett dials up.
Westsyde Secondary School graduate Meikle will headline this group of speedy pass catchers. The sophomore wideout was second Team All-Canadian last year with 43 receptions for 853 yards and seven touchdowns. He has also received a few scholarship opportunities this summer and ultimately decided to commit to the University of Calgary Dinos and will join the five-time Vanier Cup champions at a later date.
An improving defence will be anchored up front by the 20-year-old Kelowna product Lenny Beeg, a speedy defensive end that bulked up in the offseason and will use his leverage to get around offensive lineman.
New on defence this year is linebacker Cory “Duce” Chairs, by way of New Orleans, LA. Chairs is coming off a four-year career with the McPherson College Bulldogs, an NAIA program in Kansas. The 6-foot 215 pounder received training camp invites from the BC Lions, Saskatchewan Roughriders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers earlier this summer.
As high as the Broncos’ hopes might be and as great as everyone has looked in training camp, the club is well aware that trophies aren’t handed out in July. They have to be the ones to put their hand in the dirt and earn the right to change the narrative around the beleaguered franchise.
“Talk is cheap at the end of the day,” Mutrie said.
“We can talk all we want at the start, but we have to go out and earn it. So let’s see what we are all about.”
It will be a while before Broncos fans will be able to see if their team is for real in person, with the road-heavy start to the season thanks to the Hillside track work.
For fans that don’t want to make road trips, all Broncos games are available online. The club’s first home game is slated for Saturday, Sept. 16, when they host the rival Sun at Hillside Stadium. Kickoff is 6 p.m.