Back To The Gridiron: 2018 Season Preparations Underway

by Jamie Shinkewski

Preparations for the new season are underway at Hillside Stadium as the Kamloops Broncos 2018 main camp opened on July 16.

Seventy-six players are in camp to get ready for the 10-game B.C. Football Conference season.

“My trick of the trade is we have 74 lockers so we want to get 74 guys, we want to fill all the lockers,” said Head Coach Brad Yamaoka. “I feel over the last four years we’ve been able to bring in quality players every year and bring in more and more quality guys.”

This year’s roster features approximately 45 returnees, so about one third of the roster represents new faces donning the blue and orange.

“We’re looking for some of those new players to step up because some of them are older and have experience in other places, so we’re expecting some of those guys to step up and lead the team,” Yamaoka said. “We’re sitting pretty, I think, with regards to a lot of the positions. Now it’s just a matter of seeing where everyone will fit in.”

A big piece of the turnover is at quarterback with Colby Henkel graduating to the university level where he will suit up for the Windsor Lancers this season. Yamaoka said he’s comfortable with the quarterback situation in camp with a rookie who joins the Broncos with a high pedigree, coupled with the addition of Rylan Matters who recorded 1064 passing yards, seven touchdowns and a 53.4% completion rate in seven games for the Langley Rams last season.

“Reid Vankoughnett is one of the key recruits we’ve brought in this year because we had a thought Colby would be leaving and he ended up leaving for university so we wanted to have that backup plan in place. We ended up getting him and that was a huge plus for us,” Yamaoka said. “We just signed Rylan Matters who is another kid who has CJFL quarterback experience.”

On defense the Broncos saw their lone 2017 all-star, Jesse Zajaros, graduate to play for the McMaster University Marauders this season. Kieran Muir and Connor Thornewell graduated, and Landon Wilkinson will not be back this season. The four key departures combined for 90 tackles last season and Thornewell had the Broncos only interception.

“Defensively we probably had the most turnover. I say defense is 90% aggression. To put in a defense, hopefully we can get the Xs and Os in and just let these guys fly around and make plays,” Yamaoka said. “Offensively we’re going to have to be a little bit slower with Reid being right out of high school first year guy, we’re not going to be able to take off and away we go.”

Broncos former Head Coach Rob Ellis has rejoined the sideline staff for this season. Ellis served as Head Coach in 2009 and 2010, and happened to coach Yamaoka at the University of British Columbia during the current Head Coach’s playing days. Ellis will assist Offensive Co-ordinator Jesse Neufeld this season.

“He’s going to bring a little bit of stability for Jesse and help out on the offence. Just have that mature voice where maybe I’m not necessarily up to speed with what they’re exactly doing all over the place but I’ll have a good idea. He’ll be that kind of reasoning voice,” Yamaoka said.

The Broncos will run through two weeks of camp to prepare for the Interior rivalry to open the season. Yamaoka said he expects some players to have some kinks to work through after a lengthy off-season, they need to get used to the summer heat and ensure conditioning is up to par, but he doesn’t expect camp to be overly gruelling. 

“We want to go into the first game healthy and ready to go, we don’t want to beat the crap out of them. The old school where you do two-a-days for three or four weeks, I never liked it as a player so I don’t like doing it as a coach either,” Yamaoka said.

The Broncos open the 2018 season on Sunday, Aug. 5 at home against the Okanagan Sun, kickoff is at 4 p.m. at Hillside Stadium.

With files from Larry Read & Sports Scene on RadioNL.