After enduring three consecutive 2-8 seasons and watching the B.C. Football Conference playoffs unfold from the sidelines, the Westshore Rebels are primed to make a return to respectability.
With a talented recruiting class that the coaching staff believe rivals any in Canadian junior football, and more depth at virtually every position than they’ve enjoyed in years, the Rebels can’t wait to open their 2016 season this Sunday (July 24, 4 p.m.) against Langley at Westhills Stadium.
Jake Hall, a towering 6’11, 315-pound offensive lineman in his fourth year with the club, admitted suffering through losing seasons has been a tough pill to swallow. But he sees momentum being built from within.
“We’re excited, we’re ready to go and I think it’s going to be a lot different than last year,” he said before practice last week.
“Last year we started to show improvements that I didn’t see the first two years. We lost a couple games at home by (two points or less), but we started building as a team which is an important thing. We started believing in each other, believing in the program and believing in our coaches.”
The hard work began last year
Recruiting for this year started pretty much as soon as the 2015 campaign ended. Showing their determination to get better, dozens of players have been putting in long hours in the gym and doing on-field workouts for months now.
The addition of a top-notch training facility off West Shore Parkway, and the signing of legendary strength trainer and football mind Shane Beattie as associate head coach – he guided the Okanagan Sun to the BCFC title last fall – has taken the Rebels to another level, says head coach J.C. Boice.
“We’ve been getting 50 to 60 kids consistently five to six days a week. We’ve got more kids working out now than were on the roster last year,” he said. “It’s a great testament to how awesome these kids are.”
In his second full season at the helm, Boice has slowly, but surely crafted a football operation to rival the BCFC’s big guns like the Sun and Vancouver Island Raiders.
“We’ve brought in some very, very talented players and very high quality young men. We’re ready,” he said. “I think everybody believes we’re on the verge of something great. Now, we don’t know how that’s going to shake down or how far we’re going to go, but everybody genuinely believes we’re heading for some really good things.”
With Boice overseeing the offence and the ultra high-energy Beattie co-ordinating defence, the coaching staff have been working on execution and building toughness in their players, Boice said.
“These guys are going to continue to work and grind … we’re going to come into that opening game against Langley battle hardened. We’re going to push them.”
Expectations are high in camp
The reality of turning a 2-8 team into a national contender might seem like a pipe dream, but this group is willing to suspend their disbelief long enough and work hard enough to reach for the stars.
Like Hall, fourth-year safety Brody Uddenberg has seen the club turned upside down.
“The difference from my first year here to what I’ve seen when J.C. got here, the whole program took a facelift, everything changed, the intensity went up the level of everything went up,” he said. “And then Beattie got here and everything doubled again. Everybody’s gotten so much better over this off season because of what those two have been able to do together. Everybody’s stronger, faster and hits a little harder now, you know, so fans are going to get quite a show this year.”
Second-year offensive lineman Aarmin Purewal, one of a number of Rebels already recruited by college or university football teams, likes what the dozens of newcomers are bringing to the team.
“We’ve got an excellent recruiting class, with a lot of university players, a lot of skilled kids coming out of high school and they’ve been pushing everybody,” he said. “That’s what we need, that’s how you build a national championship team, by internally having guys on the team competing.”
Not only are the players playing for each other and themselves, he said, they’re going to be playing for their city.
Lerenzo Ihanza, a highly touted, 6-2, 200-pound wide receiver and kick return specialist who played for the University of Manitoba Bisons last fall, likes what he sees around the community, but is clearly here to do a job.
“From what I’ve seen, this team is a bunch of ballers,” he said. “We’ve got a great coaching staff, great support, the facilities are awesome for a junior program. This is a team that’s built to win, anything less than a national championship would be a failure.”
For more about the Rebels team and the full 2016 schedule, visit westshorerebels.ca.