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Raymond spearheading Kodiaks' recruitment drive

City's junior football team will require at least 60 players for 2022 season
02 Keon Raymond PG Kodiaks football
Keon Raymond, head coach and director of football operations for the Prince George Kodiaks junior football team, is rounding up players and staff for the Kodiaks, who will join the B.C. Football Conference as an expansion team in 2022.

After months of rumblings that the city was about to become home to a junior football franchise, those rumours became official when the Prince George Kodiaks’ board members gathered at Masich Place Stadium in July to announce plans to join the British Columbia Football Conference in 2022.

That set the wheels in motion for two-time Grey Cup champion Keon Raymond, whose job as Kodiaks’ head coach and director of football operations is to build the team from scratch.

That’s no small task considering junior teams require between 60 and 80 players, so Raymond and Kodiaks general manager Ryan Bellamy and assistant coach Ken Hocker have been busy scouting high school and junior games in B.C. and Alberta, trying to recruit enough players to fill the Kodiaks’ roster for the inaugural season.

“These last couple months, me and my staff have been on the road recruiting and it’s been good getting to see the young talent that’s available,” said Raymond. “It’s just an opportunity to promote our program and let people know who we are and what we’re about and the things we can offer these young players.”

Raymond says he’s often asked about the city’s northern climate and what that can bring during football season.

“I say, it’s not cold when we’re playing,” laughed Raymond.

“My biggest focus in recruiting these young men is to find some tough kids who understand they can play in (adverse weather) conditions and understand what it takes to be part of a team and part of the community. This is huge for the city of Prince George. I want to put P.G. on the map.”

Raymond, who still makes his home in Calgary, was in Prince George to watch the Duchess Park Condors-Vernon Panthers high school playoff game Nov. 20.. The 38-year-old native of St. Louis, Mo., came to Canada in 2008 to play for the Calgary Stampeders. He was a two-time all-star linebacker/defensive back in the CFL in 2011 and 2012 and won the Grey Cup with the Stamps in 2008 and 2014. This year he made the list of the Top 75 Stampeders of all time.

After his retirement from the CFL in 2016, Raymond got involved with coaching kids and organized Calgary’s teams in the 7-on-7 Football Association of Canada. Part of his job description with the community-owned Kodiaks is to oversee the club’s year-round flag and tackle minor football programs to expand and develop the game in northern B.C..

Raymond watched the Condors the week of their playoff game and a handful of players caught his eye as potential Kodiak recruits, including Noah Lank, who had an exceptional senior season as the Duchess Park running back/linebacker.

“I was really impressed with Noah,” said Raymond. “I was impressed with his size when I saw him at practice, but to see him running the ball and put the team on his back in the game, it was really impressive.

“If I can get him a really good offensive line to run behind, this kid could possible play for a U SPORTS team in a couple years and get a scholarship. I think there’s a bunch of special kids up here. They just need an opportunity and we’re looking forward to giving them that that.”

For the Kodiaks to thrive they will have to recruit most of their players from other cities because there are not enough high school players in the five team B.C. Secondary Schools Football Association North Division who have the ability or desire to play at the junior level. Many of the players will be billeted in local homes, similar to junior hockey players, if they can’t find their own accommodations.

Teams in the BCFC play under Canadian Junior Football League rules, which limit the age of eligibility to players aged 17- 22 during the current calendar year. But due to the pandemic which cancelled the 2020 season, the CJFL followed the lead of U SPORTS and allowed 23-year-old players already registered in a junior league the previous season to play this year. That age extension will also apply for the 2022 season.

As an expansion team in the BCFC the Kodiaks will play against the Okanagan Sun, Kamloops Broncos, Langley Rams, Valley (Chilliwack) Huskers, Vancouver Island (Nanaimo) Raiders and Westshore (Langford) Rebels in an eight-game season that runs from August-November.

The Kodiaks hosted a recruiting meeting the night before the Condors-Panthers game in which former and current junior/university players spoke about their own experiences making the jump from the high school ranks. Raymond gave every aspiring Kodiak a 12-week-workout guide that outlines what they should do in the weight gym and their running routines to get them ready for the Kodiaks’ main training camp on May 27.

“I told the kids, if you’re serious about coming out and playing for us, you won’t just look at this and put this on the coffee table, you’ll put it to work,” said Raymond.

“I told them I’m a coach of no excuses, so if we’re going to be out there we’re going to make sure we represent our city and our team well.”

Raymond says he’ll make a more permanent move to Prince George in January, when the Kodiaks off-season training camp and Northern Academy programs start their indoor workouts at the Northern Sport Centre fieldhouse.

Raymond has rounded up most of his coaching staff but said he can’t announce their names until January, when commitments to other teams have expired.

“I’m almost close to filling it out, there will be a couple Grey Cup rings on my staff,” he said.

“For us to be a top-tier program we’re going to get top-tier guys in here and we’re going to make sure when people in the city come to watch us play, they see our young kids develop. We just want to create an opportunity for kids to move on after P.G., and have an opportunity to play, whether it’s U SPORTS or transfer to NCAA, while they learn and work a trade here. I want kids who want a future.”