On the field, inexperience made it tough for the Westshore Rebels to run with the top teams in the B.C. Football Conference this season.
Even the arch-rival Vancouver Island Raiders, who finished 5-5 – a rare off year for the former BCFC powerhouse – manhandled the Rebels, most recently a 48-7 victory in Nanaimo last Saturday.
But there were signs of promise in the Rebels’ 2-8 season.
Quarterback Hunter Lake, who often took the team on his shoulders, threading the needle to his receivers and running the ball when needed, was named the league top offensive player not once, but twice.
And speaking of receivers, Jordan Rodinsky, Nathan Leader and Griffin Dear, among others, showed tremendous growth over the course of the campaign and will no doubt be a big part of the team’s future. They and Lake are all eligible to return next season.
“Sometimes we have to look past the scoreboard and look at what have we accomplished as individuals,” Rebels club president Elise Pastro said of the shining moments.
Like Rodinsky’s 184-yard, two touchdown game and Lake’s 406 yards in passing against the Valley Huskers back on Aug. 23 at Westhills Stadium, or the 115 yards in rushing Lake paired with 381 yards passing in a 24-14 loss to Kamloops at home Sept. 13.
Pastro said the measure of the season goes much farther than simply how well the Rebels did on the field. From working through old debt, to players volunteering in the community and becoming better role models for younger players, there were plenty of positive signs, she said.
“I think we did an outstanding job of improving the public image of the team,” Pastro said. “It took the players rolling up their sleeves and doing what they needed to do to help.”
The Rebels were visible in the community, having been instructed to wear their jerseys whenever they were out in public representing the team. And the connections they made with minor football players over the course of the year were not just superficial.
“We had little community players and their parents drive up to watch the game in Nanaimo,” Pastro said. “Even at Belmont (secondary), we hear their players saying … they want to be a Rebel. That says a lot.”
Paul Shortt, a former Victoria junior football coach and former president of the BCFC, told Pastro in an email that he had “never seen a Victoria junior football team get involved with the different charities around the community as the Rebels did this year.”
He called community involvement “the most important and lasting image a team can have as it moves forward.”
Only 10 of the Rebels age out of the program this year, meaning the team will have a solid core of players to build around next season.
Looking back at a season in which the league drew up two schedules, one with the Rebels and one without, such was the uncertainty of the club’s future this spring. Pastro said the board will start organizing much earlier for next season, with an annual general meeting planned for November.
The future of head coach Andrew Axhorn, thrust into a solo role after the sudden pre-season resignation of co-coach Tom Wong, is up for discussion. Pastro said the hope is to solidify the coaching staff sooner to give the team more time to recruit for the 2015 season.