Grizzlies start their regular season Saturday

WENDY FRASER

The Pemberton Grizzlies football team can count the hours until it opens its regular season in Bandon, Oregon this Saturday, Sept. 12 in the Cranberry Bowl.

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The team is entering its fourth year of competition, but the Bandon game will be the first-ever regular season game for the Lillooet players joining the squad after a summer of intensive practice and preparation.

Head coach John Burleson told the News the game versus the Bandon Tigers will be “good for the kids.

“They get to play in the U.S. on a given weekend where the entire community’s focus is on the game. The stands are full, I believe they have a band and they have local newspaper coverage,  a local radio broadcast, and I believe the local television station will be there. It’s a big deal and I think it will be a real eye-opener for our kids.”

He says the Grizzlies, with so many first-year players, go into the game as heavy underdogs. However, he is excited about this year’s group of players, which he says has  the potential to play and learn together for the next two to three years.

“One of a coach’s great advantages is continuity and changing the culture of  how a team approaches a game,” Burleson observes. He believes he will have the opportunity to do that with this team.

Lillooet players on the Grizzles are:

-       Jordan Austinson, #2 quarterback who also plays cornerback.

-       Liam Carson, wide receiver and defensive back

-       Myles Casper, offensive tackle and defensive end

-       Brand Davidson, wide receiver

-       Eugene Dick, strong safety

-       Howie Kahanyshyn, a lineman who’s one of the Big Dogs in the Dog Pound “where the big boys go.” Says Burleson: “I think our line probably averages 260 to 270 (pounds). I think the key to our season success really lies with the line on both sides of the ball. If these guys come together – we got a brief glimpse of it in camp in the super-scrimmage when both Howie and LoJo shot off the line and sacked the quarterback for 15 yards. They’re very, very strong young men and if these guys learn to play together, we’re going to be in business.”

-       Cedric Leech

-       Lane Malm is the “biggest dog,” playing right tackle on offence, and on defence  he will play inside tackle. “Lane’s having an outstanding pre-season.”

-       Mixalhcen Ned, nicknamed “Appa,” has had an outstanding summer, catching three touchdown passes in his first scrimmage in camp.”

-       Justin Pelland is a young wide receiver who the coach says “exemplifies what we strive for as Grizzlies. He’s at every practice, he does everything you ask him to do, he stays after practice to pick the brains of the veteran players. He’s really working hard and he’s got a bright future in the organization.”

-       John Spencer, Z-receiver who also plays first safety. “John is an amazing athlete. He has a very bright future in football. He’s very smart and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do in the regular season.”

-       Rotsinhiilo Wells aka LoJo is another Big Dog playing left guard or left tackle on offense and defensive tackle.  “He’s one of these guys who never played the game but he’s coming along nicely.”

Commenting on Lillooet’s support for, and interest in, the team, Coach Burleson said
“the folks in Lillooet remind a lot of the people in West Texas. The response for the football program has been amazing. All spring and summer, the parents, the teachers in the school and some of the local business personnel did everything they could do to accommodate the new program and support the kids. We just can’t be more delighted.”

He said he’s hoping to bring a game or games to Lillooet. The only thing lacking is an official football field with goal posts. “If that happens, you will have football games in Lillooet,” says Burleson. “I’m very excited about the future of football in the community.  We thoroughly enjoy being there and the kids in Pemberton, Mt. Currie and Whistler enjoy traveling up there and being part of the community.”

In July, the Grizzlies participated in a week-long camp in Warrenton, Oregon. Teams from high schools all over Washington and Oregon participate in the camps. Three years ago, the Grizzlies were the first Canadian team to go down to Warrenton. “There’s now a Canadian presence there,” said Burleson.

He said the Grizzlies started off well in their first 7-on-7 passing competition, defeating “arguably the best team in camp,” before then “turning around and losing that afternoon to a freshman hobbit team that we shouldn’t have lost to.”

All in all, he says, the Grizzles “represented themselves very well, they conducted themselves with professionalism and class, they progressed very well and there was a lot of learning with a very steep learning curve. They achieved most of what we wanted to see coming out of camp, dominating the super-scrimmage.”

The team started regular-season practices Aug. 18, practising three days a week, with the Lillooet players commuting to the Grizzlies’ Pemberton home.

The Bandon game will be followed by a showdown with the Squamish Sounders on Sept. 19 in Squamish and the Richmond Raiders in Pemberton on Sept. 26.

This season, the Grizzlies are founding members of the new B.C. Varsity Football League, which was established to give rural communities a chance to combine forces and field enough players to form a team. With the new league, he says the Grizzlies will have  the opportunity to play for a league championship for the first time. The championship game will be held in Kamloops Nov. 21.

“If we win a championship, the guys get rings. They get a championship ring - they will have for the rest of their lives that they were provincial champions.

Burleson told the News the team administration is organizing a shuttle bus to transfer all Lillooet players to and from practices and games.

The team is looking for someone in Lillooet who has a Class 4 Unrestricted licence and a flexible schedule to drive the van in September and October.

The Grizzlies are also looking for sponsors in Lillooet for the team’s travel. Businesses would receive advertising space on the field, promotional T-shirts, space on the team’s webpage and other promotional benefits.

For more information, please contact Coach John Burleson at 1-604-907-4474.

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