Seventy-three athletes from across across the country boarded a bus in Nanaimo on Thursday and headed to Port Alberni for a five-day football camp.
Right now, they resemble Raiders. By the time they come back, they’ll truly be Raiders.
Nanaimo’s Canadian Junior Football League team, the V.I. Raiders, is about to strap on the pads and get started.
“What main camp really does is explains to everybody the Raider way, the way we like to do things here,” said Matthew “Snoop” Blokker, coach of the team.
“The talent is the talent, but more than anything it’s the Raider attitude. If we produce that then I think we’ve got a chance to compete.”
Of course, the Raiders want to do more than just compete. The five-time defending B.C. Football Conference champions have played in three straight Canadian Bowl games and want to get back there.
It’s a long process, though.
“We’re going to have some growing pains, because we’ve made some decisions to go with some younger guys in certain positions,” Blokker said.
One of the most interesting positional battles at main camp will be for the starting middle linebacker spot. There are plenty of other starting jobs on the line, too, particularly in the defensive-back corps and on the offensive line.
The Raiders believe they had great success recruiting this off-season, and their returning players trained harder than ever since last fall.
“We’ve got all the groceries – we’ve just got to figure out how to cook them,” Blokker said.
It starts with main camp, which the coach said will be physically and mentally demanding.
“We want to overwhelm them a little bit,” the coach said. “That’s part of the breakdown process of everybody forgetting where they came from. Because at this level, most of the guys that come to our program are all guys that have been extremely successful in their high school programs or midget programs.”
This year’s camp consists of nine practices and an intrasquad game at Bob Dailey Stadium in Port Alberni.
Camp tends to fall on the hottest weekend of the summer every year, adding to the physical toll.
“You don’t get a second to rest,” Blokker said. “Every step you take, everything you do, there’s coaches all over you.”
So the players will lean on each other to help them through, and that creates a brotherhood that’s intended to last all season long.
B.C. Lions player and former V.I. Raiders star Andrew Harris said the team-building aspect of camp is the most important part.
“For all the new guys that are coming in, just try to be part of the family and get into the mix. For the vets, they just need to be leaders and bring these new guys in,” Harris said.
“Main camp, from my past experience, it’s been more about the team coming together as a family and enjoying the time.”
GRID BITS … The intrasquad game will be held during Sunday afternoon’s practice, which is at 3:30 p.m. at Bob Dailey Stadium.