Can the Island do it again in the B.C. Football Conference, or has the balance of power shifted back to the Okanagan, or perhaps the Lower Mainland or Fraser Valley?
Those questions will begin to be answered today at 4 p.m. when the Langford-based Westshore Rebels open the 2018 BCFC schedule in Langley against the Rams.
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Many people will be looking at the Rams this season because of new head coach Matt Blokker — the winningest coach in BCFC history and second winningest in Canadian junior football history — due to his previous championship success on the Island with both the Rebels and Raiders. Blokker returns to the BCFC after three seasons with the Calgary Colts of the Prairie Football Conference.
The rest of the BCFC teams, meanwhile, join the fray Sunday with the Nanaimo-based Vancouver Island Raiders in Chilliwack to play the Valley Huskers and Okanagan Sun in Kamloops to face the Broncos.
The home openers for the Island clubs are Aug. 11 with the Raiders hosting the Kamloops Broncos at Caledonia Park in the Harbour City while the Okanagan Sun will be at Westhills Stadium to take on the Rebels in what will be a key early-season matchup.
The Island has produced the last two BCFC champions. The second-seed Raiders upset the Rebels, who were the regular-season champions at 9-1, in the all-Island 2017 Cullen Cup final at Westhills Stadium.
The Rebels beat the Sun in the 2016 Cullen Cup, also at Westhills, before losing the Canadian Bowl national championship game at Westhills to the powerhouse Saskatoon Hilltops.
The 2018 regular season runs to Oct. 13 with the top-four teams advancing to the playoff semifinals the following week. The Cullen Cup will be played Oct. 27 at the home of the finalist with the best regular-season record.
The BCFC champion will host the Ontario Football Conference champion in the national inter-provincial semifinal on Nov. 3. The winner of that game will advance to meet the host Prairie Football Conference champion in the 2018 Canadian Bowl on Nov. 10.
Key returnees for the Rebels include wide receivers Kaine Stevenson and D’Saun Greenaway, and also linebacker Byron McKinnon, the latter out of Mount Doug Secondary.
A key recruiting job for Westshore has been to fill the quarterbacking spot vacated by 2017 starter Scott Borden, now with the University of Manitoba Bisons in U Sports.
The new starter is Mason Brown from Hamilton, Ont., who most recently played in U Sports for the Acadia Axemen in Nova Scotia.
But no vacancy will be bigger to fill for Westshore than that of 2017 BCFC rushing leader Trey Campbell, who has moved on to U Sports.
“After some of our all-star players aged out and moved on to U Sport teams, including Trey Campbell who was the number one running back in the BCFC, there were some pretty big shoes to fill,” said Rebels head coach Charly Cardilicchia, during training camp.
“I have worked really hard this off season to bring exceptional talent to round off our already talented team,” added Cardilicchia, who was named 2017 BCFC coach of the year.
That will be put to the test today against Blokker’s Rams in Langley. Blokker has 106 career regular-season wins and 26 playoff victories. He began his head coaching career by taking the Victoria Rebels to the Cullen Cup championship and Canadian Bowl championship game in 2003. He went with the franchise when it was moved to Nanaimo, and guided the Vancouver Island Raiders to seven BCFC championships and three Canadian Bowl national titles, in eight seasons from 2006 to 2013. He was named BCFC coach of the year four times and the Canadian junior football coach of the year twice in 2006 and 2013.
Blokker went to Calgary to build up the 2013 winless Colts and led them to the PFC championship game during all three seasons he was in Cow Town.