The BC Lions held their annual Fan Fest event in Kamloops on Sunday and once again it was a big success. Sunny warm temperatures finally graced the tournament capital and fan young and old came to mingle with their football team.
One of the priorities that Bob Ackles had when he came back to the Lions was to grow the game at the grass roots level, and events like the Lions put on today do just that. Young aspiring football players and others that may have been introduced to the game for the first time descended on Hillside Stadium at Thompson Rivers University to “Play with the pros.”
For other fans, the chance to get their favourite players autograph or picture was the draw of the day. I’ll say this unequivocally; there is no other league whose players mingle with the fans better than the CFL.
The team followed the festivities with a practice and a non contact scrimmage for those in attendance.
I hope this gallery gives you a sense of the great atmosphere that was present in Kamloops today. This ends our on location training camp coverage for 2012, as we have to return to the real world on Monday. We hope you enjoyed the pictures and the updates. We look forward to the start of the preseason this Wednesday!
Hello from cold, windy, rainy Kamloops. Yesterday afternoon’s beautiful sunshine was gone by this morning, giving way to the October like weather we’ve been experiencing here. Oh well, at least it’s supposed to be nice for the folks coming out for Fan Fest tomorrow.
There wasn’t much to report yesterday, the morning practice was spirited, the afternoon was a walk through session with no pads, so I took the the day off from blogging, but did post a few pictures, if you missed them.
This morning’s session in the rain was a productive one, but could also have costly. Jon Hameister-Ries left practice on a cart with what looked to be a lower body injury. N o, I won’t get into specifics here, because the club doesn’t appreciate that, but you can probably use your imagination. He did not return to the field. That would make three potential offensive lineman now nursing injuries, meaning guard Patrick Kabongo should have no problem dropping a few pounds. Club president Dennis Skulsky told me this morning that Dean Valli will go to Vancouver on Tuesday to have his knee evaluated by doctors, and said the club will take its time on the return of both he and Jesse Newman. Rookie Matt Norman has shown well.
Khalif Mitchell also took the pads off, favouring his upper body, but it looked like he would be fine after being worked on by the trainers.
Running back Stu Foord had a good morning session, earning the praise of coach Kelly Bates and showing his talents in the mini scrimmage potion of practice. Travis Lulay looked sharp and backup Mike Reilly, perhaps coming to life after the release of Corey Leonard also looked sharper this morning.
Receiver Kierrie Johnson continued his strong showing in camp, and any thoughts that his roster spot might be in jeopardy are starting to fade if they haven’t already been extinguished.
Defensive line hopefully Maurice Evans returned to practice this morning as did receiver Marco Iannuzzi.
Time for lunch, hopefully warmer, drier skies await for the afternoon session at 4:00pm today.
If you’re in Kamloops and would like to join us for a little BC Lions Social at Boston Pizza tonight, we’ll be gathering at 7:30pm at the 500 Notre Dame Drive location. Drop me an e-mail or send me a tweet @BCLionsDen if you’re thinking of joining us so I can ensure we have a seat waiting for you!
A few pictures from the June 8th morning session of BC Lions training camp in Kamloops. The session was a spirited one with a little more hitting but also saw many mistakes. Fumbles, interceptions, knocked down passes. Coach Benevides warned the team that this morning’s session was unacceptable.
We’ll have some thoughts about the sessions later tonight, but for now, the morning in pictures.
Sorry this is posted late, internet problems in the hotel and the arranging of a small get together in Kamloops delayed my intentions a little. More on that at the end of this, but first a quick recap of my observations from my first day in Kamloops.
The morning session saw mainly clear skies to start but cool temperatures. The sun didn’t stay long however and was gone by the end of the session. In the afternoon, cool, grey, windy and at times rainy conditions were present and only the diehards were in the stands.
The starting receivers group looks to be Simon, Bruce, Foster, Gore, and Kierre Johnson. Newcomer Ernest Jackson had a strong session in the afternoon. Kierre Johnson is looking very fast and is catching everything. With his small stature, some felt he might be in tough for his roster spot, especially with some of the players they have brought to camp, but to me he was one of the most dangerous players out there. He’s also being used as one of the primary kick returners so far and is looking dangerous there, albeit with limited contact to date. Marco Iannuzzi sat out the afternoon session and looked to have a minor “lower body” injury.
Andrew Harris is going to have a big year. He looks ready to be a prime time player in this league, in case his performance last year wasn’t enough of a clue. Behind him, I thought Anthony Stewart has a few nice runs, but he’s very small. Didn’t notice much of Stu Foord, but rookie Nic Grigsby also had some nice carries.
The best battles of the day were the one on ones between Patrick Kabongo and Khalif Mitchell. The two put on an impressive display and showed a mutual respect for one another. As someone who had concerns about how heavy Kabongo came into camp, I had some of those alleviated after seeing how well the big man moves and seeing his work ethic. He is fitting in well with the existing offensive line members and is a leader on the field. With a little bit of weight loss and some fine tuning by Dan Dorazio, Kabongo could very well prove to be a solid pick up by the Lions with the injuries they have incurred on the line to date.
As reported, the Lions are going to give James Yurichuk every chance to stake claim to the middle linebacker spot of the departed Solomon Elimimian. It’s really tough to get a gauge on how he’s doing right now, because at this point in camp, there isn’t a lot of hitting going on. I expect to see a bit more on Friday and Saturday, and of course we’ll all get a first hand look Wednesday against the Riders. Anton McKenzie has two strong sessions including almost picking off Travis Lulay. Adam Bighill is also in the mix, but the job is Yurichuk’s to lose.
This is definitely an area of strength for the Lions and it shows. Byron Parker is fitting in nicely, both on the field and the trash talking department among the unit. The real standout for me today though was safety Cauchy Muamba who picked off Lulay and looks to be grabbing hold of the starting safety spot. Lin-J Shell continues to see second team reps and Anthony Reddick looks to be getting most of the reps at the nickle back spot.
Angus Reid sat out the morning session for what was referred to by the team as a maintenance day. He was back in the afternoon session. Defensive lineman Maurice Evans tweaked something in the morning and was sitting out the afternoon along with LB Adam Leonard who looks close to returning. As mentioned above Iannuzzi also sat out the afternoon.
If you’re going to be in Kamloops on Saturday night, June 9th, a few Lions fans are getting together at the Boston Pizza at 500 Notre Dame Drive at 7:30pm. If you would like to join us, please e-mail me at email@example.com and we’ll make sure we save a seat for you.
Next practice: Friday, June 8th 8:20 am and 4:00pm.
Here are some photos from today’s sessions:
So you’re heading up to Kamloops to check out BC Lions training camp. If this is your first time, there are a few things you need to know and hopefully this guide will help you come prepared for anything that might happen! This will be my 9th consecutive trip to training camp so I’ve learned a few tricks of the trade and thought I would share them here. I’ll be in Kamloops from June 7th through Fan Fest on June 10th and hope to meet a few Lions fans there during my stay!
Kamloops is known for its lack of rain, but that doesn’t mean you should leave the rain gear at home. I’ve sat in the stands and been hit by flash thunderstorms that bring heavy rains, hail and wind. It’s not common, but come prepared for everything. Sunscreen is of course a must. For the first week of camp the weather looks a bit iffy.
If you’re coming up for the day, be warned. The Lions can cancel a practice session at any time. Coaches may not like the weather forecast; they may feel the players need a break, or that a film session would be more beneficial. There is also the chance the team may decide to have a “closed’ practice inside the field house at the university. The team’s media people generally try and give ample notice of this, but I have shown up to the field once or twice to find that the session has been cancelled.
Follow the BC Lions on Twitter (@BCLions) and check their web site for the latest announcements, especially if you’re just planning to come up for the day.
The Lions have a great setup at Thompson Rivers University. The players accommodations are located here, and they practice at Hillside Stadium. The parking on site is free during Lions practice sessions, so don’t by a ticket.
If there is one piece of advice you’ll be thanking me for it will be my tip to bring a cushioned pad to sit on. The stadium bleachers are not comfortable!
It’s important to remember that the BC Lions are here to work. Training camp is very important for the players and coaches, and they should not be bothered while they on the field working. Take all the photos you like from the stands, but fans are not allowed on the field (including this blogger). The players are great with the fans and many will come over to the stands to mingle with fans following any given practice section. Be polite, and they will sign and even pose for a picture.
Fan Fest on June 10th is the best way to get quality time with your favourite player and they are more than happy to interact with the fans on this day.
Enjoy the chatter
One of my favourite parts of training camp is listening to the players talk amongst themselves on the field. The defence in particular likes chirp a lot, particularly at the offensive players. There can be some really amusing lines that get thrown around. Also, don’t be surprised if tempers flare occasionally and the occasional fight breaks out. The toll of two a days can cause the blood to boil.
Meet other fans
One of the great things about the CFL is the friendships you can make with other fans. Lions Nation is growing by leaps and bounds every year. Every year at Grey Cup I am seeing more and more black and orange, and that’s great to see. If you see me, stop by and say hello, sit down and talk some football. Who knows we all may end up in a pub somewhere talking about our team.
If you’re planning to come up for more than a day, there are plenty of hotel and motel options in the “Tournament Capital of Canada”. Look around for the best deal but you can expect to pay between 80-125/Night for a decent place to stay. My personal preference is the Accent Inn. It’s clean, reasonably priced and close to everything. If camping is more your thing, there are several camp grounds in the vicinity as well.
With an early morning session and an afternoon session there is plenty of downtime to be had between all the football. Kamloops offers plenty of things to do for all ages. Riverside Park is a great place to spend a few hours, and it has a water park for the kids. Explore the local pubs and restaurants or go for a hike in the area. At night there is a Casino downtown if that’s your thing. When you’re out for dinner, don’t be surprised if you see a few players out enjoying a meal away from camp. There is plenty of shopping as well, so Kamloops has something to offer for everyone.
I hope to see a lot of fans in the stands in Kamloops this week. I hope you enjoy the experience and the beautiful surroundings of Kamloops, BC!
Tonight the BC Lions organization will celebrate last year’s Grey Cup championship one last time with a private dinner and ring ceremony. It will then be time to put last season behind them, head to Kamloops and start looking forward to the challenge of winning back to back championships for the first time in club history.
We’re going to look forward as well, as it’s time for our pre-camp look at this year’s edition of the team.
We’ll be in Kamloops from June 7th to the 10th, and will be tweeting and updating you with thoughts, pictures and whatever other little scoops we can come up with. Here are a few topics I’ll be keeping an eye on, when I get to training camp next week.
Lions have retooled from the top down. Wally Buono has moved up stairs to focus on building the club, while protégé Mike Benevides now calls the shots on the field. Just because he’s been trained under Buono, don’t expect Benevides to be a clone of the CFL’s most successful coach. He’s clearly his own man and by the sounds of things his edition of the Lions is going to attack the field in every facet of the game.
When you hear Mike Benevides speak you can’t help but feel confident. Of course that has to translate into wins on the field, but so far you have to be impressed with Benevides and the way he handles himself. You can tell he lives and breathes football, and he’s chomping at the bit to get things going. Look for Benevides to take more chances in his game plans than his predecessor, and that could mean a really exciting year for Lions fans.
Benevides scored a win when Rich Stubler was wooed back from Edmonton for the defensive coordinator job. That move alone, and the relationship between the two, will take a load off Benevides and allow him to focus on other key areas.
If there is an early pressure to face for the new head coach, it will be to keep this team focused and to avoid the slow start that almost wrote their season off last year.
The offensive line returns intact, which is huge. No question that the Lions had a little luck this off-season in getting Jovan Olafioye back after a medical issue delayed his NFL dream. No one is happier than Travis Lulay to have Olafioye back, who easily could have been named the top offensive lineman in the league last year. The general, Angus Reid returns for one more tour of duty.
The big boys up front really gelled in the 2nd half of last season allowing Travis Lulay to stay relatively unscathed for the most part. That will be even more paramount this season, with the comfort blanket known as Jarious Jackson now in Toronto. The biggest battle for me on the offensive line will be between the hard luck, often injured Jon Hameister-Ries and Jesse Newman. Newman took the job last season and never surrendered it after Hameister-Ries suffered a torn tricep injury. It’s interesting to note that the initial club depth chart shows Hameister-Ries as the starter which may tell you what Benevides’ preference is.
On the defensive line the Lions are going to be hard to handle once again. The return of Khalif Mitchell is huge and with the return of Keron Williams, Khreem Smith and Eric Taylor the Lions should be in the mix for the sack title once again in 2012. Newcomers to watch are Rajon Henley, Jeremy Geathers and rookie Jabar Westerman.
The biggest loss of the off-season was hands down the departure of Solomon Elimimian. Early reports from Minnesota sound promising for the speedy hard hitting linebacker to get a good look, so don’t expect him back soon, if at all. Even if he doesn’t make the team as a linebacker, Elimimian could make a nice career out of being a special teams player in the NFL, similar to another former BC Lion, Brendon Ayanbadejo, a multiple time pro-bowler.
James Yurichuk will get his shot to claim the middle linebacker spot and if he can win the job, it will give the Lions more options ratio-wise. Hard hitting Adam Bighill is also a possibility and impressed the Lions last season, while newcomer Beau Bell will be interesting to watch.
There’s nothing secondary about this group.
The Lions raised a few eyebrows when they signed free agents all-Stars Byron Parker and Lin-J Shell, both formerly of the Toronto Argonauts. They join an already talented and experienced secondary where the challenge will be to get them all on the field at the same time. Davis Sanchez has retired so if the Lions still go with a Canadian at safety it will be between JR LaRose, Cauchy Muamba and Hamid Mahmoudi. The Lions will use the physical Shell as a nickel back according to their camp depth chart, where he will share time with the hard hitting Anthony Reddick. Korey Banks and Ryan Phillips will slot it in at halfback while Dante Marsh and Byron Parker will man the corners. Stanley Franks, who is recovering from a horrific knee injury is on the roster, but with no guarantees on his return, he is likely to lose that spot to make room for a healthy body.
Andrew Harris is now the man at running back and he’ll have Stu Foord to spell him relief here and there. At full back there will be a battle between Rolly Lumbala, Tim Cronk and 2012 draft pick Jordan Verdone, a linebacker in college. With the Lions committed to a Canadian running back, if any of the new talent brought in make the team it will likely be in a returner role.
Geroy Simon is 67 yards away from becoming the league’s all-time leading receiver, a mark that is completely obtainable on opening night. Simon shows no signs of slowing down and with the return of Arland Bruce, teams are once again going to have to pick their poison on who to double team. The emergence of Akeem Foster last season gives the Lions a big target with speed, and they will look for better things from Shawn Gore. Kierre Johnson, whose touchdown in the Grey Cup last year pretty much sealed the deal, returns and will look to play a bigger role with his outstanding speed. Paris Jackson is back in a support role while Marco Ianuzzi is poised to make an impact. Ones to watch could be Ernest Jackson, Courtney Taylor and Darnell Jenkins. The returning Nick Moore will have many gunning for his roster spot and will have to show well to keep it.
Those special players.
The master, Paul McCallum returns, coming off one of his best seasons as a pro. Understudy Hugh O’Neill is also back with a year under his belt, and should McCallum’s defiance of father time start to show cracks he should be better prepared to play a role. For good measure, the club has brought in a third kicker, Quinn Van Gylswyk.
Benevides will no doubt demand more on special teams, as the Lions return coverage was iffy at times last season, even down the stretch when they were playing their best football. Special teams demon Jason Arakgi will be a leader downfield as usual.
On the return game Tim Brown returns for another season and you can be sure others will be auditioned there as well. Early names mentioned as candidates to challenge Brown are running backs Nic Grigsby, Taylor Atwood and Anthony Stewart as well for the role among the new receivers and running backs brought into camp.
Last, but hardly least, Lulay.
It’s no secret that as Lulay goes the Lions will go. During a twitter chat with the Grey Cup MVP, I asked him what aspect of his game he thought he needed to improve the most. His answer was “Reading defences at the line of scrimmage.” Another year under his belt along with his dedication to film and studying the game should help with that. Like all CFL teams, the Lions biggest job, will be to keep their prized QB healthy.
Mike Reilly starts camp as the backup, but Corey Leonard has a year under his belt and could push him. Behind them, Thomas Demarco can run the ball and reportedly has a laser accurate arm as well. Whether he can learn the nuances of the Canadian game in time to make an impression will remain to be seen. Fourth arm BC Junior Jordan Yantz will look to absorb everything he can from his first taste of pro football.