After an off-season away, the Okanagan Sun have returned to the gridiron to defend their national championship of 2022, and it all starts at the Apple Bowl with Spring Camp.
Castanet hit the field with the team to get a sneak peak of the action.
“It feels great. It’s definitely a new year, you know, a full brand new start for us. It’s going to be good for us. I love seeing all the young guys out here willing to learn and just asking all the questions,” said third year linebacker Jacob Bond.
“We’re full go right now. We’re hitting — defence is loving it — I don’t know how the offence feels about it, but we’re full go.”
With last season’s starting quarterback Dom Britton off to the University of Calgary, the Okanagan Sun are in need of a new starter.
“His back up last season was Liam Kroeger who’s doing really well in this camp, but we’ve also brought in a veteran transfer named Adam Rochaa from Mount Allison University, so we have a definite battle at that position,” explained head coach Travis Miller.
“Jake Richards from Holland College is here, so there’s some really cool opportunities for our guys to battle it out for that number one spot.”
Miller tells Castanet the ultimate goal is to repeat as national champions, and he believes he has the right team to do it.
“Our focus is to bring that same atmosphere and that same mentality home and win it in front of our fans in 2023. The BCFC hosts the national title this year, and you know, everything we’re doing right now is to put us in the best position to host the national championship in Kelowna and hopefully hoist that trophy again in front of our home fans," continued Miller.
Spring Camp wraps up on Sunday where they’ll be making some final cuts. And then the team will return to the field in July for Training Camp.
That's certainly the case for the BC Football Conference's Okanagan Sun.
Coming off the team's first national championship in 22 years, the Sun have become the preferred destination for several junior football hopefuls and university transfers.
That will be borne out this weekend when the club holds its annual spring camp.
Head coach Travis Miller says between 110 and 120 players are expected to take the field for the three day camp beginning Friday evening at the Parkinson Rec Centre fields.
It's the largest spring camp in terms of numbers in quite some time which Miller acknowledges brings with it some challenges.
Miller says two Sun coaches will work with each position group, quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, both offensive and defensive lines, linebackers and defensive backs.
"And, we're bringing in about 20 guest coaches, some CFL guys all the way down to high school coaches here to learn," says Miller.
"We'll have multiple coaches at every position to help evaluate and run the practices."
Miller himself will be able to move from group to group and help in the evaluation of talent.
He said he's looking forward to see the fruits of what he believes is a good recruiting class.
Probably the most important battle will be under centre where the team is looking for a new starter for the first time in three years after Dominic Britton left for the University of Calgary.
"I think there will be a good battle there with Liam Kroeger who is going into his third year and Adam Roche who is a Mount Allison transfer."
Kroeger saw action in just two games last season, throwing for 309 yards and three touchdowns while Rocha spent last summer as the starting quarterback for the semi-pro Sudbury Spartans.
"I think there is also going to be a really good battle on both lines," added Miller.
"We have some veteran returnees and added a ton of great talent both high school and university transfers. And, when you add people who have played at the U-Sport level to your program, it elevates everybody else around them."
Miller says the goal of the weekend is to evaluate each position to determine what they have and what they still may need.
He expects to have the numbers down to about 85 in time for main camp July 3.
Castanet is revisiting the top stories of an eventful 2022. For the Kelowna sports story of the year, we look at the Okanagan Sun's championship run.
It was a season the Okanagan Sun will not soon forget.
For just the third time in their 41 year history, the Sun hoisted a national championship.
And they did it on Prairie soil.
The Sun capped off its first ever 14-0 season with a thrilling 21-19 come-from-behind win over the Regina Thunder at Regina's Mosaic Stadium.
The stadium that would host the Grey Cup the following week was home to a celebration more than four decades in the making.
Prior to the 2022 Canadian Bowl, the Sun had made 10 trips to the Prairies in the dead of winter, and came home empty handed each time.
The Sun trailed 15-0 late in the second quarter and were having a hard time moving the ball against a tough Regina defence.
But with time melting off the clock before halftime Dominic Britton marched the club 75 yards in less than two minutes, capping it off with a gutsy five-yard touchdown pass to Colby Miletto on the final play of the half.
The touchdown sparked the team.
After conceding a safety to go down 17-7, running back Jevan Garwood scampered 52 yards to cut the deficit to three then, following a Dawson Puk interception, Britton hit Mike O'Shea from 24-yards out on third and three to give the Sun their first lead, one they would not relinquish despite some harrowing moments in the dying minutes of the game.
The defence stuffed the Thunder on a third and four with 44 seconds left to seal the perfect season.
For first year head coach Travis Miller, it was vindication for a long off season of recruiting and to ensure he had the right mix for a long playoff run.
Miller becomes just the second head coach to lead the Sun to a national championship, joining Lawrence Nagy who guided the team to the Canadian Bowl in 1988 and 2000.
It's now up to Miller and his staff to try and repeat with a team which will lose close to two dozen players to graduation or university.
The long road to repeating 2022 is already underway.
The drought is over - and it couldn't have ended on a bigger stage.
For the first time in its 42-year history, the Sun won a game on the prairies, hanging on for a thrilling 21-19 win over the Regina Thunder in the Canadian Bowl at frigid Mosaic Field in Regina.
The Sun trailed 15-0 at one point in the second quarter and 15-7 at the half before roaring back in the third quarter with two touchdowns to take a lead they would never relinquish.
But, the turning point in the game came late in the first half. Trailing 15-0 and have trouble moving the ball against a tough Thunder defence, quarterback Dominic Britton marched the team 75 yards in 10 plays in less than two minutes to get the Sun on the board.
The drive was punctuated by 15 and 20 yard connections with receiver Mike O'Shea and a pass interference call the put the ball on the Regina nine.
After a four yard completion, and with the clock showing zeros, Britton hooked up with Colby Miletto from five yards out to give the Sun some life.
They ride that momentum after the break.
After conceding a safety, offensive player of the game Jevan Garwood broke his biggest run of the day, sprinting up the gut for a 53 yard touchdown to cut the deficit to three.
The defence then took over. On Regina's next possession, facing second and nine, Dawson Puk came up with the biggest defensive play of the game, intercepting a Carter Shewchuk pass at the Regina 49.
He returned the ball to the 32, giving Britton a short field to work with.
Three plays later, on third-and-two, Britton hit O'Shea from 24 yards out. Liam Attwood's extra point put the Sun up 21-17 with just three minutes to go in the quarter.
They had a chance to increase the lead to a converted touchdown early in the fourth quarter, but a O'Shea was unable to handle the snap on a 34-yard field goal attempt to give the Thunder the ball back down by four.
The Sun defence, which surrendered two touchdowns in the second quarter came up big down the stretch, bending, but refusing to break.
They held the Thunder on third down deep inside their end on three times in the fourth quarter. They held on third and eight at their 13 while holding a four point lead then, after conceding a safety with 35 seconds left, held the Thunder on a third and four at their 44 with just seconds remaining and the Thunder trying to move into range for a game-winning field goal try.
Britton started slow, connecting on just two of his 10 passes in the opening quarter for 21 yards before settling in during the second quarter.
He was 12 of 15 for 97 yards during the second and third quarters.
Garwood carried the rock 21 times for 127 yards and the game-turning touchdown.
O'Shea was busy, catching five passes for 70 yards and the game-winning touchdown. He also had several big plays in the return game, earning special team player of the game honours.
Puk was named the game's top defensive players.
Saturday's win was the third national title for the franchise, who won their first 32 years to the day on Nov. 12, 1988, a 50-0 shellacking of the Burlington Junior Tiger Cats.
Their last national championship was a 38-26 triumph over the Saskatoon Hilltops at the Apple Bowl in 2000.
UPDATE 1:50 p.m.
The Okanagan Sun have captured the third Canadian Bowl in franchise history.
Thirty four years to the day after winning their first title in 1988, the Sun went into Regina and beat the Thunder 21-19.
The Sun defence, which bent but didn't break all day, stuffed the Thunder on third and four at their 44 with seconds left to preserve the two point victory.
More details soon.
UPDATE: 1:10 p.m.
The Okanagan Sun have stormed back from a 15-0 deficit to take a 21-17 lead over the Regina Thunder after three quarters at the Canadian Bowl in Regina.
The Sun conceded a safety early in the third quarter to fall behind 17-7 before the offence came alive.
Jevan Garwood scampered 52 yards straight up the middle to cut the deficit to 17-14.
After a Dawson Puk interception on the next Regina possession, Dominic Britton hit Mike O'Shea from 24 yards out on third and two to give the Sun their first lead of the game.
UPDATE: 12:30 p.m.
The Regina Thunder hold a 15-7 lead over the Okanagan Sun at halftime of the Canadian Bowl in Regina.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Thunder drew first blood on their first drive of the second quarter.
Regina capped a 69 yard drive with a two yard run from Ryland Leichert.
The Thunder got the ball back deep in Sun territory moments later when a third down snap skipped in front of punter Isaac Wegner. He fell on the ball at the Sun 21.
Five plays and a pass interference call later, Thunder quarterback Carter Shewchuk scampered six yard to put the hosts up 14-0.
The Sun were unable to move the ball until their final drive.
Starting at their 35 after a Thunder single with less than two minutes to go in the half, quarterback Dominic Britton marched the team 70 yards in 10 plays to get on the board.
Britton connected with receiver Mike O'Shea on 15- and 20-yard passes, then capped it off with a five-yard toss to Colby Miletto on the final play of the half.
The Thunder will receive the kickoff to open the second half.
The Okanagan Sun and Regina Thunder are scoreless after one quarter of the Canadian Bowl in Regina.
Both teams have tried to run the football with some success.
Sun running back Jevan Garwood has 40 yards on the round in the opening half.
The Sun were able to move the football into Thunder territory, but stalled at the 30 and were forced to punt.
Quarterback Dom Britton completed just two of 10 passes.
The Okanagan Sun hope to turn the clock back to their dominant glory days of the late 1980s and 90s.
The Sun will try and replicate the success of teams in 1988 and 2000 when they captured the only national title in franchise history.
The 2022 team looks to be as dominate as those teams, balanced on offence, defence and special teams.
In their way, the equally dominant Regina Thunder, who rolled through the Prairie Conference, winning all eight regular season games and two more in the playoffs to earn the right to host today's Canadian Bowl against a Sun team unbeaten in 13 straight, including the national semi-final two weeks ago in Windsor, Ont.
"We have had a lot of time to dial into what they are doing," Sun head coach Travis Miller said of today's opponent during a cold weather practice earlier this week.
"We watched all 10 games and had the opportunity to see what their tendencies are.
"Obviously, we're going to make adjustments to that, but we are more going to focus on ourselves. We've polished who we are and what we do, and make sure we are as prepared as possible."
That means a lot of film work and a lot of field work.
On film, Miller says the Thunder look to be the best team they have faced all season, a strong offence and defence, stout front fours and a steady offence.
"I don't think we've played against a defensive line outside of our own that's as strong as what they have. Their front seven is quite good."
"It's been a long time coming for us," added veteran safety Garrett Cape.
"We've been working at this a couple of years now. Lots of the guys are about near the end of their career here, so it's nice to finally make it to the point we want to be."
Everyone is focused on the task at hand, said receiver Noah Bymak.
Oh, and it is going to be cold in Regina. The latest forecast calls for temperatures of -15C with a wind chill of -24C at game time.