If you like hard-hitting line-of-scrimmage collisions, pass pattern strategies that intricately mesh the thoughts of quarterback and receiver, agile speed-demon running backs who turn holes on the field into paydirt, all governed by Canadian football rules that make our game so much fun to watch, you’re in for a treat this weekend.
It’s coming this Saturday at 7 p.m. when the Prince George Kodiaks make their long-awaited home debut at Masich Place Stadium to face the Kamloops Broncos.
After two years of hype, when the rumours started flying that Prince George was pursuing a franchise in the B.C. Junior Football Conference, all the work behind the scenes to make it happen will play out on the field in what will be the highest level of football this city has ever scene.
Finally, the kids who put on helmets and shoulder pads to play minor and high school football in Prince George will have a chance to see where they can take their game if they have what it takes to get to the next level. Saturday’s game will no doubt bring out the pride of everybody making it happen as the Kodiaks put down roots as the seventh BCJFC franchise and 17th team in the Canadian Junior Football League.
Keon Raymond, the Kodiaks head coach and director of football operations, says the coaching staff won’t have to do much to get their troops motivated to bring their A-games to the field Saturday.
“It’s the first home-opener, I don’t think you need much to get up for something like this, especially the first home game in franchise history,” said Raymond. “Guys are excited about the opportunity.
“For our local guys, they get a chance to represent their city to show there’s football here and for me I’m excited for these young men to grace their home field their very first day. (Running back) Noah Lank is a kid he probably could’ve went anywhere to play university ball but he wanted to stay home and be a part of making history here and having an opportunity, especially with coaching staff we do have for those guys.”
The Kodiaks opened their inaugural season two weeks ago in Chilliwack, losing 31-5 to the Valley Huskers. The visitors kept it close for the first half, trailing only 10-5 but faltered in the second half against the Huskers, a team coming off a third-place 4-4 finish last year. Prince George had the bye last weekend and that gave them nearly two weeks to rest up their war wounds and pour over the game film.
In a league of 18-23-year-olds, the Kodiaks are the youngest BCJFC team. Many of the players are new to junior football and their rookie mistakes showed on the field at times in Chilliwack. The Kodiaks were without the services of 22-year-old first-string quarterback Keagan Henderson, who was out with a lower-body injury. Henderson, from Airdrie, Alta., joined the Kodiaks after three years in the league with the Vancouver Island Raiders.
That left the pivot duties to two untested rookie quarterbacks from Calgary. Liam Oczkowski started the game and went 9-for-19 for 189 yards passing before he hurt his ankle in the third quarter. Sam Sabine came in to replace him and completed four of his nine pass attempts. Henderson is ready to go and there’s a good chance Oczkowski will also be back in the lineup Saturday.
“That was the first game for us and the coaching staff got to see what we have as a team and what we are and one thing I did see from our guys is we are tough,” said Raymond. “We’ve got a tough group of young kids here and I told them we’ll have to be tough. We just have to have that mantra and display that, week-in, week-out. For us as a first-year team going against a playoff team from last year, especially in that first quarter, we held up to kind of what we could do.”
Prince George football fans will have plenty of local heroes to cheer for. Twenty-five of the 90-player Kodiaks roster list P.G. as their hometown, while two others played their high school football in the BCSSFA Northern Conference.
Raymond says local receivers TJ Nyberg and Nathan Stokes will get their first crack at making some catches and he’s expecting big things from well-conditioned linebacker Nicholas Tremblay, a College Heights grad who's blended well with middle linebacker Teegan Morin of Calgary. Hayden Matheson played last year for the Broncos and he’ll be going up against his former teammates providing secondary coverage for the Kodiaks.
The other Prince George products on the team are Andrew Johnson, Jerome Erickson, Quinn Neukomm, Oak Adams, Kayden Wiseman, Alexander Macpheat, Karson Flynn, Logan Devauld, Gavin Murray, Damien McMaster, Levi Martin, Brodyn Chambers, Roderick MacDonald, Connor Wales, Spencer Rogers, Peter Nyce, Amandeep Bansal, Jared Annis, and Kohl Rink. Former Duchess Park Condors receiver Carson Briere is on the roster but is unable to play this season due to a medical condition.
Also part of the Kodiaks club is defensive lineman Jason Kragt of Hixon, who played last year for PGSS, and Vanderhoof native and defensive tackle Corbin Brown, who played for his hometown Nechako Valley Vikings.
The Kodiaks have drawn players from across the country and them are Western Canadians. Prince George is now home to four Ontarians – including Toronto natives running back Keanu Brown, wide receiver Matthew-Uriah Kaye-Mitchell and offensive tackle Will St. Hubert and offensive lineman Mackenzie Schraa and offensive lineman Mackenzie Schraa, from Emo, Ont. Raymond predicts the 23-year-old St. Hubert will be a CFL draft pick next year. They’ve also recruited veteran defensive end Zach Cormier of Sackville, N.B. who played last year for the Acadia University Axemen.
Twenty-nine Kodiaks are from Alberta, including defensive back Keon Raymond II (son of the head coach) and defensive back Marcellus Pope (whose dad Marvin, a former Calgary Stampeder, is the Kodiaks defensive co-ordinator). The younger Pope played last year at the University of Calgary and in Chilliwack he led the Kodiaks in tackles. Raymond II played junior college last year in Kansas.
Fans at Masich Place Stadium will also get their first looks at two players from Scotland – punter/placekicker Jack Cochrane and offensive lineman Jonathan Letham. At six-foot-five, 365 pounds, Letham casts the biggest shadow of any Kodiaks player. Both played American rules football in their native country last year. Wide receiver Marquise Banks, a product of Stellacoom, Wash., is the lone American-born Kodiak.
Brown, Oczkowski, Cormier, Raymond II and wide receiver Kameron Shoesmith are the team captains.
Saturday’s game is the first of five home games the Kodiaks will play this season, as the BCJFC reverts to a 10-game schedule for each team, after a pandemic-shortened eight-game 2021 season. The Broncos are coming off a 14-7 loss last week in Kamloops to the Vancouver Island Raiders. Kamloops went 1-7 in 2021.
Football fans are invited to the Kodiaks’ pep rally Friday night at 6:30 p.m. at the team clubhouse at the Hart Community Centre – 4900 West Austin Rd. For everybody who attends, it’s a chance to meet the players, coaches, officials, sponsors and management staff.
“We’re trying to build a team and build a culture and it starts here at our football clubhouse at the Hart with our pep rally,” said Raymond.
A couple hours before the game Saturday, at 4:30 p.m., the Kodiaks will meet with their fans at the Rotary Skate Park on Massey Avenue then walk together to the stadium. Raymond is hoping to make the Bear Walk a Kodiak tradition before the start of every home game, just like it was at Middle Tennessee State, where he played college football before he became a CFL all-star with the Calgary Stampeders.
The team is expecting a sellout for the game. Season passes are selling for $85 and single-game tickets re $22. The Family Fun Zone end zone tickets are $10, available online.