Optimism abundant as Huskers spring camp starts

At this weekend’s Huskers spring camp, Tyson St. James will put faces to the names and see exactly what he’s got to work with

Tyson St. James will stroll the sidelines at Townsend Park this weekend for the first time as the head coach of the Chilliwack Huskers.

Hired at the end of January, the former Canadian Football League lineman  and linebacker has spent the last three months making up for lost time. Given a shortened offseason, St. James hit the phones and roads hard, leaving no stone unturned in his search for junior football talent.

At this weekend’s spring camp, St. James  will put faces to the names and see exactly what he’s got to work with.

“We’ve been really busy recruiting, and our goal was to have 100 players at spring camp,” he acknowledged. “The reality is when you shoot for 100 you might get 80, but we’ve had most of the players confirm through registration and I’m excited about getting on the field and doing something instead of just talking all the time. ”

Taking over a BC Football Conference team coming off back-to-back 0-10 seasons created some recruiting issues for St. James, who had to sell prospects on the upside of the Huskers program. The coach had some candid conversations as he tried to get players to commit.

“It’s one of those situations where you have one conversation where it’s good, then it changes and then it’s good again,” he chuckled. “There’s a lot of water under the bridge from the last five years. What I try to do is provide hope, and once  you provide hope it really seems to help.”

St. James found many recruits open to the idea that it’s a new era, and the Huskers may not be stuck in 0-10 purgatory forever.

“A heard a lot of good things from guys who feel this is something they can help build,” St. James said. “I want these guys to be where they’ll feel comfortable building themselves as people and players, instead of just plugging in and playing football games. A lot of the conversations were very positive that way.”

St. James has players coming from here, there and everywhere. The burgeoning football factory of Prince George continues to send players south.

The coach is expecting players from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and he hopes to see a large group of local players as well.

The Huskers made a big splash last spring when they got commitments from several graduating Chilliwack midget football Giants. In years past, those players flocked out of town, choosing the Nanaimo Raiders or Langley Rams over their own backyard.

When players like Cody Parray, Dylan Boykowich and Cole Herrmann not only signed with the Huskers but made sizeable impacts in their rookie seasons, it was a sign the local pipeline may be re-opened.

“I wouldn’t say we’re completely there yet, because we still have to prove there’s something different and exciting going on here,” St. James noted. “This team came into existence to give those guys an opportunity to play high level football beyond midget. My job is to get these players excited about staying and playing for the Huskers.”

The Huskers will be on the field Saturday morning from 10 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

They’ll be back for a second practice from 2 to 4 p.m. and Sunday practice times are 10 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 3:30 p.m.

St. James said no one will make the team out of spring camp, but first impressions can carry through to main camp in the summer.

“Spring camp is an opportunity for the players to showcase their athleticism and for the coaches to see if they make sense for junior football,” St. James said. “We’ll be doing a lot of teaching and evaluation drills. We’ll see how they handle themselves on the football field and how they handle themselves off the field. We’re not just looking for quality players, we’re looking for quality people.”

Get Huskers information online at chilliwackhuskers.org.