This time last year, Valley Husker head football coach Bob Reist says his young and confident (brash) defensive backs were a vocal bunch, chirping the Husker receivers non-stop during practices.
The DBs were better than the pass catchers and they knew it. There wasn’t much the receivers could do to shut them up.
But one week into training camp this year, Reist laughs at how the tables have turned.
His secondary is still full of talented players, but now they’re lining up against an equally loaded group of receivers, and the chirping has decreased substantially.
There’s nothing more humbling than watching former University of Manitoba Bison Anthony Dyck high-point a ball, leaping up to snag a pass you had no hope of reaching.
And there’s nothing more irritating than watching and listening to vocal slot receiver Brandon Poulin (also from the Bisons) as the speedster turns a five yard crossing pattern into a 50 yard gain.
“It’s safe to say Brandon and Anthony are locking down the weak side of our receiving corps,” Reist said. “Brandon has absolutely dynamic speed and you have to respect his speed deep. But he also has the ability to cut on a dime and the thought of him catching the ball on a crossing route makes him a scary matchup for anyone in this league.
“And Anthony, he is quietly unbelievably good, if that makes sense, because he is smooth in his routes, powerful, smart, fast and I have never seen anyone in this league with his ability to go up for a ball.
“He is the complete package.”
If it was just those two, the Huskers would already be well ahead of where they were last year, when there was no go-to guy.
But there’s more, starting with another Bison import, Remis Tshiovo. Signed as a running back, the Winnipeg native may have just as much to do in the passing game.
“The possibilities with Remis are through the roof because you can play him in the slot or bring him over on a sweep-fly or line him up in the backfield,” Reist said. “He’s not a power back, per se, but he can bring the load. Some of the things he can do on a cut and with his acceleration are unique.”
Among the guys pushing to get on the field, the current leader is second-year Husker DeAndrey O’Connor.
Listed at six-foot-one and 193 pounds, O’Connor had 11 receptions for 103 yards and one touchdown in limited action last year, and has taken a clear step forward this summer.
“DeAndrey showed some fantastic things last year and his athleticism has been on full display in training camp,” Reist said. “He has dynamic speed and his route running got a lot better over the offseason.”
Nipping at his heels is another returnee, Andrew Palmer.
A Surrey native who stands six-foot-four and tips the scales at 198 pounds, Palmer barely saw the field at all in 2016.
“But he’s a kid who clearly worked his butt off, his hands and route running have improved significantly and he’s saying, ‘Listen. You’d better find a reason not to play me,’” Reist said.
Nathan Desnoyers had 23 receptions for 296 yards and a TD in 2016 and has the ability to play in the slot or shift outside. Another Nathan, Stokes, a five-foot-nine receiver from Prince George has quietly had a good camp as he tries to force the hand of offensive coordinator Corey Hamade.
“It’s going to be tough making game-day decisions, but it’s great to see these players pushing to get on the field,” Reist said.
Every coach loves competition, and Reist is enjoying the nightly battles at Exhibition field.
“Last year, I think complacency, when you’re in a spot and it’s for sure, it’s easy to sit back,” Reist said. “This year guys have to fight across the board.”
The number of talented targets gives Hamade the ability to great creative with the playbook.
Motioning players to get mismatches.
Reist, who comes from a defensive coaching background, believes the Husker offence will be able to cause problems for B.C. Football Conference foes.
“Corey’s done a good job adapting his systems to the personel we have and that’s not always easy to do,” Reist noted. “The personel is vastly different from what we had last year and we’ll have the opportunity to change them on the fly to give the defence different looks.
“The trick for Cory will be finding ways to get all of these guys the ball, and that’s an excellent position to be in.”
The Huskers open the 2018 BCFC regular season schedule at home Aug. 5.
The Vancouver Island Raiders visit for a 2 p.m. kickoff at Exhibition Stadium.
See valleyhuskers.org or bcfootballconference.com for more info.