NANAIMO — It has begun.
The VI Raiders quest to repeat as Cullen Cup champions started this week with practices at Comox Field.
There won't be a main camp this year with coach Doug Hocking stating the rationale is keeping his players from coming out of main camp 'beat up'.
Even still the players will be on the practice field every week from Tuesday to Friday and have other meetings and video sessions on top of that.
Hocking says he'll rely on his veteran players to get the team out of the gate quickly.
"We've got a veteran group of guys. We've got a bunch of third year guys who have been involved in this program.
We've brought in some fourth and fifth year kids," Hocking said. "Our theory behind it is that we can get right into practice."
This season the first game is August 5 in Chilliwack, with the home opener set for Saturday August 11 at Caledonia Park.
Drills from the Raiders first practice on July 10 at Comox Field:
Coach Hocking expects the team to develop their identity quickly citing the attitude and energy of the players as the foundation for success.
You won't hear the coach talking about another Cullen Cup or winning the Canadian Bowl, he breaks everything down into smaller goals.
Hocking talked about just 'winning Tuesday' at the first practice and stressed the importance of winning each day and each rep whether in practice or in games.
20-year-old Nick Hunchak is looking forward to his second season with the Raiders.
The All-Star punter from 2017 will take over all the kicking duties with the departure of fellow All-Star James Parker.
Hunchak is impressed already with the talent level of the current team.
"We had a lot of guys graduate on last year but the guys we have right now, the coaches did such a good job of recruiting. I think we're ready to compete against anybody in this country with what we have right here," said Hunchak.
Receiver Mike West is one of the new players coach Hocking is excited about this year, he says West is well known in junior football circles already.
"People on the Island aren't going to know who he is but everybody across Canada involved with junior football and U Sports knows who that kid is, and we've got him right here in Nanaimo," said Hocking.
West was the number one receiver with the Valley Huskers back in 2016 with 693 yards.
He's also a basketball player which helps with his hands and footwork.
The Raiders are going with essentially the same group that came out of their Spring Camp in May but Hocking says the group won't be solidified until mid-September.
Those roster decisions will be based on performance on the field and also meeting academic requirements.
In 2017 the Raiders suprised many be winning a BC championship, this season they'll be going into the season with a target on their backs.
There's a belief among the group that even though last year was great, the team can be even better in 2018.
On twitter: @danmarshall77
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