The Vancouver Island Raiders football team continues to increase the number of local players, including its fair share of former Ballenas Whalers suiting up this season.
As part of the 20 team Canadian Junior Football League — comprised of three divisions (B.C., Prairie and Ontario) — the Raiders are looking to get back to the Cullen Cup (B.C. final) after missing it for the first time in eight seasons.
For the Raiders, who call the B.C. division home, there’s lots of Island talent and none more evident than those from Parksville.
Former Whalers Liam O’Brien, Dustin Rodriguez, Terrek Bryant, Dallas Towle and Cobby Stubbins are all Raiders.
“I’m really excited to join the Raiders,” newly recruited Stubbins said. “I didn’t really feel like leaving anywhere to go and play football and having Coach Conn be such a big reason why I looked at the Raiders, it made the decision easy for me.”
The Ballenas connection with the Raiders was going to also include a familiar face at the head coaching position, as former Whalers head coach Jeremy Conn was named the new head coach of the Raiders earlier in the year.
But after a few months in his new position, Conn had to resign due to health reasons.
“I’ve been coaching for 20 years,” Conn said. “It’s very difficult to hang up the whistle but I need to take a break. My new game plan is to focus on recovery and to ensure there’s no relapse.”
“I’m grateful to the VI Raiders organization for the opportunity they gave me earlier this year and for their ongoing support for understanding how hard this decision was for me,” Conn said.
Last season was a memorable one for O’Brien. As the starting QB for the Raiders, O’Brien threw for 2,842 yards (best in the B.C. conference) and 20 touchdowns on the season. He also rushed for 287 yards, good enough for second on the Raiders.
With leading receiver from last season Marshall Cook graduating from the CJFL, O’Brien will look to former Whaler Dustin Rodriguez as a potential down-field threat. Rodriguez played a key role for the Raiders last season as punt and kick returner and wide receiver.
O’Brien is just one of the many key pieces to the puzzle for a team that’s looking to get back to it’s winning form. The Raiders were Canadian Bowl Champions in 2006, 2008 and 2009.
Former Raider and Oceanside Youth Football Alumni Gord Robinson will be on board with the coaching staff for the Raiders as the defensive line coach, one more local connection.
The Raiders main camp starts July 11, with the season kicking off July 25 when they host the Langley Rams.