The Westshore Rebels won’t have any time to ease into their quest to defend last year’s Cullen Cup.
The Rebels travel to Kelowna on Saturday for their season opener against the Okanagan Sun in a rematch of last year’s B.C. Football Conference championship game.
“I’m excited. We’ve put in a lot of work and we’ve got a lot of really good athletes here,” said rookie head coach Charlie Cardillichia ahead of Tuesday night’s practice. “We’re really excited to see what this season holds for us.”
The Rebels took two out of three from the Sun last year, including a 32-21 win on home turf in the Cullen Cup, but lost their only game in Kelowna.
“The hardest part is probably the bus trip,” said returning running back Trey Campbell, who is expected to be one of the team’s featured weapons on offense. “We’re going to be up at 6 a.m. and getting the first ferry … it’s a long day.”
Weather forecasters are also calling for a Saturday high of 34 degrees, adding another challenge, although the late 7 p.m. kickoff should help cool things down at the Apple Bowl.
Campbell rushed for 605 yards on 65 attempts last year for a league-high 9.3 yards per carry among players with 50 or more attempts. He added 80 yards on six carries in the Cullen Cup and should expect to see even more of the football this season in the absence of last year’s top rusher Jamel Lyles.
“I’m just expecting to contribute more to the team offensively and play a bigger role this year whether it’s running, catching passes or blocking,” he said.
Cardilicchia expects the Rebels to have an aggressive game plan on Saturday.
“We’re going to come out guns blazing. We’ve got some athletes and we’re going to let them shine,” he said.
Scott Borden, who split time with Ashton Mackinnon last year prior to leaving the club, will get the start under centre.
Cardilicchia doesn’t believe the ex-Saint Mary’s Husky has gotten nearly enough respect around the league. “I feel like he’s kind of getting slighted. [Pundits] are acknowledging that he’s a talent but they’re not saying what he is, and that’s the best quarterback in the BCFC.”
Defensively, co-ordinator Shane Beatty noted that the Rebels’ D is ripe with both speed and veteran savvy.
Returning linemen Kent Hicks and Jeremie Drouin are among those who are expected to win battles in the trenches, pressure the quarterback and free up the rest of the defense to make plays. They’ll be joined by newcomers Ovie Akpeneye and Chris Larsen along what should be a formidable defensive front.
“Our D-line is going to be very, very good. Our secondary’s deep and our linebackers, I’m happy with. They’re physical and can run,” Beatty said.
The Rebels have a road-heavy schedule to open the season. They’ll visit the Vancouver Island Raiders Aug. 5 and the Kamloops Broncos Aug. 12.
They’ll open their home slate on Aug. 19 against the Langley Rams, the first of four consecutive games at Westhills Stadium.