Kamloops Broncos primed for return to gridiron

The Kamloops Broncos vanquished the Valley Huskers 28-10 on Oct. 7, 2017, in Chilliwack.

That victory nearly four years ago marks the Broncos’ most-recent B.C. Football Conference win, one of two against the Huskers in a 2-8 campaign.

An 0-10 season in 2018 sparked coaching changes, along with unrest and reshuffling at the board level. The Broncos posted an 0-10 mark in 2019.

And then came the pandemic, an on-and-off-field nightmare that waxed the 2020 season and forced the postponement of a Week 1 contest last month between the Okanagan Sun of Kelowna and the Broncos.

“It’s just delaying the inevitable,” Broncos’ head coach Braden Vankoughnett told KTW. “We are going to get to go out there and kick somebody’s butt on Saturday.

“It’s just a matter of when that Saturday is — next week, two weeks from now on Sept. 11 when we go to Valley ... it doesn’t really matter to us.”

That Saturday, the opportunity to deliver the inevitable butt-kicking, is this Saturday, when Kamloops travels to Chilliwack to play the Huskers, who opened their 2021 season last week with a home loss to the Sun, a 39-8 defeat at Exhibition Stadium.

The nearly two-year wait for Broncos’ gridiron action is finally over and, as ever, hope springs eternal for the beleaguered Tournament Capital franchise.

“I know, with the guys I’ve brought in, the coaching staff I have and the way we’re approaching things, we definitely aren’t the same football team,” Vankoughnett said. “There’s no way we go 0-10 again this year.”

Kamloops, which last reached the post-season in 2015, has one winning season since joining the BCFC in 2007, a 6-4 mark in 2014.

Vankoughnett, a former Broncos’ linebacker and BCFC all-star, coached the linebackers in 2018 and was promoted to recruiting co-ordinator/defensive co-ordinator in 2019.

He got the nod in February of 2020 to succeed former Broncos’ bench boss Rob Ellis, and proceeded to craft a roster for a season that did not materialize.

Much work has been done by general manager Jan Antons, Vankoughnett and others on staff to reload and retain the roster, a tall order while uncertainty reigns amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Several players opted out recently due to the league’s introduction of a mandatory vaccination policy.

“There’s still uncertainty,” Antons said. “Any day, something else could happen. We’ve seen this during COVID. We take it one step at a time, play and fingers crossed nothing will happen.”

Interior Health restrictions are the latest black cloud, with current gathering-size limitations, which will be reviewed at the end of the month, making BCFC game play within the region impossible.

Yet buy-in among players appears to remain steadfast, perhaps a testament to the culture Vankoughnett has sought to establish.

“It’s a shot in the gut, for sure,” said Matt Wilson, the Broncos’ 21-year-old starting quarterback, speaking to KTW about the Week 1 postponement. “You’re out there sweating every day. That’s your goal. You’re visualizing. And it falls through again, like everything seems to have done over the past two years.

“It’s been frustrating, but it gives you extra fuel for the fire when the first game comes.”

It’s coming. And Wilson is expecting his team to hear from doubters.

“You know what? Bring it on,” he said with a laugh.

Wilson, a product of the Saskatoon Holy Cross high school program, was backup quarterback for the Vanier Cup-winning 2019 Calgary Dinos.

“I’ve been lucky to be a part of a lot of winning football teams,” Wilson said. “I know what the community looks like and the practices feel like. I’m excited to bring that to this team. The sky is the limit for us right now.”

Former Broncos’ quarterback Stephen Schuweiler, who led the BCFC with 3,050 passing yards and 27 touchdown passes in 2015, will handle offensive co-ordinator duties in 2021.

The roster features about 15 Kamloopsians, including underage receiver Colton Meikle, who has received special exemption to play in the BCFC as a 16-year-old.

“It’s been hard. I’ve missed some special years,' said Meikle, a Grade 11 student at Westsyde secondary.

“It’s going to be great here. The team is coming together really well.”

The first-year bench boss echoed the rookie pass catcher's sentiments.

"Our sights are set on the playoffs and from there we'll see what happens," Vankoughnett said.

"We plan to win some football games and do it in an aggressive and intense way."

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