Blake Roberts dropped the mic on the Kamloops Broncos, pipe-bombing the rebuilding franchise with unfavourable predictions and opinion on his podcast, Dieter’s CJFL Podcast with BCFC emphasis.
Among his claims, some of which he reiterated in a subsequent interview: The Broncos will most certainly post an 0-10 record this year, the club’s new-look board of directors is delusional if it believes the team will ever win a championship in the current Canadian Junior Football League format and the franchise is in danger of extinction.
The former B.C. Football Conference executive has had ties to the league and the Okanagan Sun for nearly 30 years, but is now free of the muzzle that often comes with organizational affiliation.
To hear Roberts’ takes, go online to soundcloud.com/dieterscjfl and listen to the U20 Concept and Episode 12 offerings, among others.
Roberts may not have set out to eviscerate the Broncos’ brass, players and coaches, as much of his argument for the team’s hopelessness is more an indictment of the CJFL’s 22-and-under format, which he believes should be 20-and-under, but his strong words quickly reached the Kamloops bulletin board.
“Us against the world, absolutely,” Broncos’ offensive co-ordinator Jeremy White told KTW on Monday before practice at Hillside Stadium.
“Being told that you are going to go 0-10, we’re using that as fuel.”
The Broncos underwent sweeping changes after last year’s 0-10 campaign and brought in head coach Rob Ellis for his second tenure.
Brad Yamaoka, the bench boss in 2018, will coach the running backs and special teams this season. Former president Dino Bernardo is no longer with the team, with Darren Watt taking over that role.
“It’s supposed to be a rebuilding season, but we’ll see once that first game is under our belt,” Ellis said. “We’ll see how well we’ve recruited. I’m cautiously optimistic about the season.”
Did he hear the podcast?
“It’s like Game of Thrones — words are wind,” Ellis said. “A lot of people forget how close the games with the Sun and Langley were at the end of last season.
“I think this team we have is better than that.”
Kamloops will receive an acid test in Week 1, slated to play the Sun in Kelowna on Saturday, Aug. 3. Okanagan has never lost to Kamloops, which joined the league in 2007.
White plans to strip down the playbook this year for what he called a true rebuilding season, noting recent high school graduates will benefit from simplification.
“It’s a young team, eager to learn and very coachable,” White said.
Many of the team’s 2019 recruits are from the Prairies, castoffs from programs such as the Saskatoon Hilltops, the perennial CJFL institution that generally has its pick of the litter.
“I’ve got a lot of under-the-radar players that maybe some people overlooked, and they’ve got a chip on their shoulder,” said Braden Vankoughnett, whose coaching duties include leading the front seven on defence.
Linebackers Darby Kwan and Mixon Madland, defensive linemen Troy Melo and Damian Person and defensive backs Quinntinn Kocis and Kaden Cook are among returnees expected to buoy the Broncos’ defence, said Vankoughnett.
“If we put them in the right position to succeed, I think they’ll handle business,” Vankoughnett said. “I don’t know about rebuild. I prefer the term reload.”
Roberts’ shotgun shrapnel seemed welcomed motivation to most who spoke to KTW, but Nick Nica, who is expected to start at quarterback for the Broncos, has a different approach.
“Our coach put it in our group chat,” Nica said. “I went to go watch it, but I thought, let’s leave the outside chatter outside. Let’s focus on us. No one knows what we can do at this point. It’s us against the world. Everyone can keep talking.”
Reid Vankoughnett, Braden’s younger brother, was brought to Kamloops prior to the 2018 campaign and given the starting quarterback job in time for Week 1.
Nica, who last year backed up Huskers’ No. 1 pivot Julian Wytinck, has swapped teams with Reid Vankoughnett, who is competing for the No. 1 gig in Chilliwack.
“I got my release from Chilliwack and wanted to play for Langley,” Nica said. “At spring camp, it just didn’t mesh. It’s my third year, so I figured I’d go to a place where you can start and try to go to university. My buddy texted me and said — so you want to come to Kamloops spring camp?”
Nica is impressed with the group of offensive players he is pegged to lead.
“Our starting five is absolutely insane. I told the guys at the beginning of camp — you guys are all all-stars,” Nica said. “There is so much potential on this team. It can only go up.”
The Broncos were asked for a response from the board level to Roberts’ suggestion the franchise’s future is in jeopardy.
Mike Harrison, the Broncos’ vice-president, said the club is in a fantastic position.
“It’s been a really actively engaged board and coaching staff since we had the AGM [on Feb. 13],” Harrison said. “There was a bunch of stuff we had to change in a positive manner, quite the undertaking.
“A record of 2-18 over a couple of seasons, it was just time for a change. That’s all.”
Harrison addressed Roberts’ theory that the CJFL should become a 20-and-under operation.
“If it was something that was going to be successful, it would need a lot more support and I don’t see that it has any right now,” Harrison said.
“Blake put a lot of work into this. He’s to be commended for being passionate about what he believes in, but it really appears he’s the only one believing it now.”
Roberts said the Broncos will never emulate the Sun, who were established in 1981 and built partly on the back of excellent Kamloops players in the 1980s and 1990s.
The Sun’s history has made them the go-to spot for Interior and Okanagan high school recruits and the Broncos, now drawing from only one senior high school football program, at South Kamloops secondary, simply arrived to the party too late, according to Roberts.
“I would say that’s Blake’s vision, respectfully,” Harrison said. “There is none of that on our side.”
Harrison, also on the Kamloops Community Football board, said bantam and midget programs likely to be established next year will bolster the football scene for high-school age players in the city.
KTW will have more on that in the coming weeks.
The Broncos’ home opener is slated for Saturday, Aug. 10, when the Langley Rams come to town.
Game time is 6 p.m. at Hillside Stadium, a venue Roberts hailed second-best among western CJFL stadiums.
The compliment’s shine diminished when he said Hillside — which is undergoing sound-system and lighting upgrades this week — will never host an interconference playoff game unless the CJFL considers format changes.
“The fact the Kamloops Broncos will not have the opportunity to show the stadium and city off is a shame, because Kamloops really does do this sort of thing right,” Roberts said, noting the Tournament Capital is a great football community.
“The recipe for the Kamloops Broncos is now one of failure. It’s a real poor recipe for the Kamloops Broncos to survive.”