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The Okanagan Sun congratulate safeties Brennan Van Nistelrooy and Jack Rush who were this evening named to the Canadian Junior Football League defensive All Canadian Team.
The hard hitting Rush wrapped up his junior career this past season after playing with the Sun the last two years after joining the club out of the University of Acadia. The leader of the Sun defense, Jack had a reputation as one of the hardest hitters and most intelligent players in the conference.
Van Nistelrooy was the Sun’s rookie of the year in 2011 and played in 2012 with the University of Alberta. The Sun was buoyed by the return this season of the grad of Catholic Central High School in Lethbridge. The rest of the conference remembered him well as he was recently named the top defensive back in the BCFC.
Congratulations to Jack, Brennan and Devon Kozar who was yesterday named to the offensive All Canadian Team.
Congratulations to Okanagan Sun offensive lineman Devon Kozar (Portage La Prairie Collegiate) on his selection to the 2013 Canadian Junior Football League All Canadian Team!
Kozar, who just wrapped up his third and final season of junior eligibility with the Sun was an unquestioned leader of the team this season. A defensive lineman by trade, Devon made the move to left tackle this season in order to help his team where it needed him most.
Devon's presence on the field and in the locker room will be greatly missed next season. So much so in fact, that head coach Shane Beatty has offered him a spot on the coaching staff in 2014.
With two weeks gone since his team’s semi-final exit from the BCFC play-offs, first year head coach Shane Beatty reflected on what he felt was an earlier than expected ending to the season this week. His typical coach’s disappointment in the hours and days following the loss didn’t take long to turn to a focus on 2014.
“Of course I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed in myself, there are things I missed personally in the field after watching the game that I am just kicking myself over. But at the same time this team is so young. To lose two guys, one starter in the secondary. We are deep, and so young. We made some young mistakes and it showed, but moving forward we are hard at it getting ready for next year. I took my 48 hours, maybe 72 to mourn the loss a little bit but I’m excited to get going again. We have a lot of work to do to get ready for next year and to help the 8 kids who are moving on.”
Of the 8 aforementioned graduating players are 5 starters (REC Tommy Howes, OL Devon Kozar, OL Will Halibisk, LB Brandon Donkers, safety Jack Rush). While all will be difficult to replace, the ever important left tackle spot vacated by Kozar is perhaps the most critical as the Sun offensive line looks to get bigger and stronger next season.
Beatty is targeting a second year player out of Lethbridge to fill that left tackle spot at this point;
“Kelton Hurt is in that position right now. Give him the off season and his mentality and the way I know he will train and he will come in at 280 pounds and ready to go.”
Beatty expects he will bring in 5-6 offensive linemen to battle with a strong returning group that he feels will only be better next season
“We have 6 or 7 guys coming back who can start next season. I’m going to be looking to those guys to work their butts off in the gym and come back stronger than this year.”
While Beatty and his staff are hard on the recruiting trail for players to wear the Sun jersey, one of his most pursued additions will not be a new player but rather a graduate.
While Devon Kozar said in his grad profile that he plans to explore his final 2 seasons of CIS eligibility he would also like to come back and coach with the Sun someday ”if there is room on the staff”.
So impressed with his leadership and football smarts, Beatty is offering Kozar that opportunity sooner than later with a graduate assistant spot on the staff. In order to entice him to walk away from playing the game and a potential CIS scholarship he has offered him the ability to attend school here through the Sun program while he coaches.
While there is no word yet on whether Devon is taking Beatty up on his offer or planning to play in 2014, his head coach makes no bones about it that he feels keeping him around would be a coup for the Sun.
“I’d love to have Kozar around here. He is a phenominal young man. He and I are going to sit down and talk. If he decides his playing days are over he could be a heck of an assistant coach. We are going to see if he wants to go to school through our program, and he and I could be working close together.
“He is very intelligent, he would be a great addition to the staff.”
While there was the understandable sadness when Sun players cleaned out their locker room last week, the very positive vibe among both graduates and returnees was unmistakable. There is a definite feeling of optimism in the players eligible to return and at least presently it looks like Beatty has a 100% return rate heading to 2014.
While the graduating players won’t have the benefit of seeing the growth next season, they seemed genuinely proud of being part of what was accomplished this year.
“I think so, absolutely. The Jack Rush’s, the Tommy Howes’, the Kozar’s, the Donkers’. The guys who have been here a while, how they presented themselves on Monday saying their goodbyes…you felt the loss of those players and you know our young players look up to them but moving forward like Jack said, we have some great things in store for the kids. I think the ones coming back are excited and I think the guys leaving know they were an important part of something that is getting started here.
“We are going to bust our butt to become better as a staff. We have a long way to go. You have to remember we didn’t get in here till April, we didn’t meet as a staff till April. We got off to a late start but we are starting now. We are revamping the playbooks, hitting the coaching clinics…I think we can only get better.”
Graduating safety Jack Rush saw the optimism that day and while his junior clock expired (he expects to be playing junior college in the states through a connection of Shane Beatty’s) sees big things ahead for his alma mater.
“There is definitely (reason for optimism) next year. I’m really happy for the guys next year. The coaches stepped it up huge. Coach Beatty, did an amazing job, the support staff…everyone just can’t wait to be back next year. I can feel it.”
Of all the key returnees, none is more important than Winnipeger, QB Theo Deezar who has already committed for next season having found himself a billet family that has become his home away from home. Deezar’s eagerness to return next season was accompanied by an email Beatty received from his parents expressing how pleased they were with their son’s experience in the Okanagan.
Beatty plans to capitalize on Deezar’s and other players positive thoughts about 2013;
“You never have anybody 100% wrapped up until camp starts but Theo has committed for another year unless a move down south happens. He is helping us recruit, we potentially have a couple real good kids coming in with his help that are friends of his. He is going to be the leader of this program on his side of the ball. He has a bright future here for at least one more year.
“The sky is the limit for him next year, I think he could be the offensive player of the year in the league next year.”
While Deezar battled incumbent Cam Bedore the first half of the season, it became evident as the season went on that the reigns had been handed to Deezar and his 6’5 frame.
Despite losing his starters job, Bedore has stated that he likes the team and plans on also being back even if it means a position switch. News that Beatty is glad to hear;
“Cam has to play on the field somewhere. He is such an athlete, and such a good kid. You saw him going down the field on the punt team (BC semi-final vs Langley) and stripping a ball and causing a fumble that we recovered. He has lots of potential, very strong and he has great speed. We just have to find a niche for him on this team. I’m not saying he can’t be the back- up quarterback, he trains his butt off and we can have packages for him…and have him in at defense as well. He and I are going to sit down and discuss this and see how he handles the off-season in the weight room.”
Coming back home to hockey mad Canada from the U.S.A where football is king was no doubt an adjustment for Beatty. His intensity and demands might have surprised some players when he arrived early on. His fiery attitude and willingness to call out a player for a perceived lack of effort can and has been the downfall of many a coach.
Beatty seems to have the unique ability to show no favoritism and build up the confidence of his players resulting in a respect from his team that is impressive.
“I don’t think I’m hard on them. I think I’m fair. I think I treat everyone equally. Every player, the coaches, the staff, to everyone in the organization. You have that passion, you try to push them, motivate them to become better. I am pretty set on what I want to see done. I’m not saying I’m set in my ways, because I am pretty flexible, I care about the kids. They know that I care about them and I want what’s best for them. They know if I am ever yelling, it’s not out of malice it’s because I see something in them and want them to get better.”
In addition to his intensity he has also brought north a focus on detail and a university style commitment requirement of his players that paid dividends.
A team that is traditionally tight nit because so many players come from out of town and stick together in the small town environment of Kelowna became more so due to increased team commitment.
Beatty says the players seemed to appreciate and even enjoy the demands he was taught in U.S football and brought with him.
“I thought as the season progressed our kids became more involved. More meetings, always being on time, real early. We started having meetings at 3:30 before practice all the way up to 5:15 before we got to practice. The kids were really consistent.
“The difference in the states is depending on the level sometimes they are at meetings at 5:30 in the morning or for junior college 7 AM every day whether it’s for lifting or meetings. That the biggest difference, the structure you have in the states compared to here but as we moved forward with the season I thought the kids became more involved. They really bought in and became a family…if you look mentality wise, the kids are no different there (states) than here. They just want to play and be part of something. These kids competed, I just love this group.”
Jack Rush played two seasons of CIS football before joining the Sun in 2012 and saw the differences first hand between university and a Beatty led squad. But not in the way you might think;
“Beatty went past university I think. The last week I had time so I was down there 7 hours a day watching film with him. I don’t remember ever doing that with CIS even when I didn’t have classes. He stepped it up huge for us. It was amazing.”
Rush say the intensity and attention to detail from his coach was embraced by all his team mates.
“You could win 65 to nothing and if you did something wrong on film you would still hear about it from him because he wanted it to be perfect. That’s what we were all striving for, it didn’t matter who you were. You were accountable, I know I was. It was amazing.
“He gives you credit where credit is due just as much as if you do something wrong. It is never one-sided. And he knows what he is talking about, he can back up what he is saying to you.
“I’ve had coaches in the past who might yell if something you do is done wrong but they can’t tell you how to do it right. They almost don’t know why it’s wrong. But coach Beatty can tell you how to do it right. He’s a coach.”
While Beatty was hired in December, he didn’t arrived in Canada until April and spent a great deal of time on the phone with his assistants as he coordinated recruiting efforts and learned about the Canadian athlete again.
This year he has the advantage of being in country and knowing a great deal more about the players he wants. Couple that with needing to bring in about 20 new players as opposed to the 45 required this year and its clear the club is several steps ahead of last year.
While the team will be better prepared and more talented next season it will be met by the challenge of a tougher schedule as the squad returns to the top tier of the BCFC. It will play a total of 6 games against the Langley Rams and VI Raiders as opposed to the 3 this year.
It’s a challenge Beatty and his players welcome.
“Of course, you want to play the best. That’s how you get better. We will be ready for them and I’m sure they are looking forward to playing us more too.”
As if 6 regular season games plus play-offs against the Rams and Raiders isn’t enough of a challenge for a team looking to get back to the Canadian Bowl for the first time since 2004 an onerous inter-conference schedule in 2014 certainly is.
The BCFC champions must first go to the prairies and beat the PFC champs in their park (something the Sun have failed to do in 8 tries) just to get to the big game against the OFC.
Difficult challenges indeed.
Ones that you can’t help but think Shane Beatty will have his team more than ready to meet head on.