Mike Reilly knows he and his B.C. Lions teammates are going to get sick of each other over the next three weeks of training camp.
But the star quarterback believes eating, sleeping and playing together will help create vital bonds for a squad that has been radically overhauled since last season.
“It’s a great opportunity to improve in football but also just get to know each other as people, too,” Reilly said Sunday after the team wrapped up its first official practice.
The Lions added more than 50 new faces over the off-season, from coaching staff to key players, including Reilly.
Some are once again feeling like freshmen as they start out with a new club.
“I sort of feel like a rookie again, but with, I don’t know, 70 games of experience,” said offensive lineman Sukh Chungh, who spent the last four years with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. “My mindset is just making new friends and getting to know my teammates more.”
Others, like Brett Boyko, are at a CFL camp for the first time. The 26-year-old offensive lineman was drafted by the Lions in 2015, but has been playing south of the border with the Philadelphia Eagles and San Diego Chargers.
Boyko said he was still in California when he got an offer from the Lions last week.
“There’s a lot of new faces here. Obviously me, for one, but new coaching staff, new players and so I think we’re all kind of excited,” said the Saskatoon native. “And we’ve all got the same goal in mind and that’s to win a Grey Cup.”
One key to victory will be growing together as a group, Boyko said.
“Teams that win are tight. That’s just the bottom line. They care for one another, they’d do anything for one another and they play for one another. When you play for the person next to you, it takes an extra step of pride, step of determination because you don’t want to let that brother down.”
The location of the Lions training camp helps foster tight-knit relationships. The team travels more than 350 kilometres northwest of their home facility in suburban Vancouver to Kamloops, B.C., a picturesque city in the province’s interior where everyone lives and trains together on a university campus.
For Reilly, who’s returning to B.C. after spending six years with the Edmonton Eskimos, being at the facility is a bit of a “blast from the past.”
“Here it really does feel like camp because you’ve got the dorms, sleeping in a crummy bed, you know, instead of sleeping in your own bed,” he said. “Just the environment feels a lot different, just being closed off on your own campus. And I think that’s great. It builds that chemistry because you can’t get away from your teammates.”
Those close quarters are key to building the trust that’s required on the field, said wide receiver Duron Carter.
“To do that, you have to have relationships off the field, you have to go to dinner, you have to argue with each other about basketball and play video games with each other,” he said.
Carter spent last season between the Toronto Argonauts and Saskatchewan Roughriders, but struggled, posting just 18 receptions for 230 yards and two touchdowns
In 2017, he put up 1,043 yards for the Riders with 73 yards and nine TDs.
The 28-year-old native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., signed with B.C. as a free agent in February.
Playing for the Lions is a whole new opportunity, Carter said Sunday.
“You get caught up in the game of football, in people wanting you to be something or develop you into something, or they see your talent and want to do this with it,” he said. “It’s just good to be part of a real family.”
It doesn’t hurt that the team is stacked with talented receivers like Bryan Burnham, Lemar Durant, Shaquille Johnson and Josh Stanford who’ve already made names for themselves across the CFL, Carter added.
“These are all guys that have been cornerstones of teams, crucial to winning. So to bring us all together under the best quarterback in the league, you have to be excited about that,” he said.
Despite the plethora of talent, the Lions have a lot of work to do, said head coach DeVone Claybrooks.
“No matter how successful you were the season before, every season you have to strip it all down to the foundation and build from that,” said Claybrooks, who won a Grey Cup as defensive co-ordinator for the Calgary Stampeders last season.
“And that’s what we’re trying to do, one practice at a time, one rep at a time.”
Gemma Karstens-Smith , The Canadian Press