The Valley Huskers added a ton of skill-position talent in the offseason, including quarterback Julian Wytinck.
It’s not a stretch to suggest the Manitoba Bisons import could be the best QB the junior football team has ever had, but that comes with a massive caveat.
The strong armed pivot will light up the B.C. Football Conference IF his offensive line gives him time to make the throws. Even the best field generals will struggle with a pass rush in their face, and that’s why Husker bench boss Bob Reist has been paying extra close attention to the big boys in training camp.
“It’s obviously a focal point with Julian here, to give him enough time to get the ball to the weapons we have,” Reist acknowledged.
The Huskers return several players from last year.
Bringing anyone back from a team that went 0-10 in 2017 isn’t going to get people excited, and Reist admits the line play wasn’t good. But he also pointed out the inexperience of the group and the potential for growth.
The only guy who wasn’t a first year player last year was Chad Moore, who is back as the veteran voice in the locker room.
“Their experience as a group was kind of being thrown the wolves,” Reist observed. “Normally you see a young kid come in surrounded by veterans, but to a man they have worked hard to improve.”
Manitoba native Teegan Beaulieu stands out among the returnees because he stands above them. A towering presence at six-foot-eight and 300 pounds, he could be a good one if he gets his technique right.
Reist added a potential impact player this week, signing Liam McCormick.
The GW Graham grad (class of 2017) spent last season with the U-Sports Waterloo Warriors
“Liam is taking the majority of his reps at left tackle, and we are looking for him to anchor that spot,” Reist said. “His impact has been immediate on the group. They have picked up their performance and confidence levels and he is a big part of that.”
McCormick is reunited with a handful of former GWG linemates, including Michael Lengert, Jaimey Bessette and Devan Voss.
Lengert has gone through training camp practices with a quiet intensity and no-nonsense attitude. He could be due for a big second-year leap.
“Like any player, Lengert needs to improve, but he is consistent and he’s had a good camp,” Reist said. “He is a very strong guy who should anchor an inside spot for us.”
Bessette has been taking reps at tackle and inside. The tackle battle includes Jordan Reynolds, a newcomer from Winnipeg, and Robert Moore, a recent graduate of Mission secondary school.
Another Mission native, AJ Kala, signed in June as a defensive lineman, but he has been working on the offensive side lately and looks promising.
The good news for the line is Wytinck may help them as much as they help him. Operating out of the shotgun formation, he can read defences quickly and get the ball away with a lightning quick release, meaning his protectors won’t have to hold blocks quite as long.
“You want to keep the defence from sending everybody, so we’re also looking to run quick plays that back people off,” Reist said. “Screens and slants and quick hitters. If we can get the ball out of his hands quickly, defences can fill the box all they want and we’ll just attack the outside edge.
“But certainly, the line will be a big part of it.”
If keeping Wytinck on his feet is assignment one for the line, clearing holes for the running game is close behind.
The Huskers have struggled mightily to run the ball in recent years, but the running back position has been reloaded this summer. Keegan Vicklund returns, joined by GW Graham star Von Richardson and Manitoba Bisons import Remis Tshiovo.
They can get the job done if there’s room to run.
“But part of our struggles running the ball has also been about a lack of weapons,” Reist noted. “It’s been easy for defences to send an extra guy or two at us, whether we’re passing or running, because we didn’t have a go-to guy to keep them off balance.
“Everything we did last year, guys were in our face, and I would expect the same this year, but I think we have a lot more weapons and things we can do where opponents won’t be able to rely on an in-your-face attack.”
The line will get a stiff test in the home opener.
The Vancouver Island Raiders are the opponents for a 2 p.m. start at Exhibition Stadium.