At last, the Langley Rams can hit someone else.
After three weeks of lining up against their teammates, the junior football team can finally get some licks in on someone in an opposing jersey.
The Rams kick off the 2017 BC Football Conference season on Saturday (July 29) when they welcome the Vancouver Island (VI) Raiders to McLeod Athletic Park. Game time is 4 p.m. with kids 12 and under getting free admission.
“They are just ready to hit somebody else,” said Rams head coach Khari Joseph.
“And we are excited to see what we are about and show the world.”
Langley enters the season with justified optimism — one league prediction pegs the team to finish first, although the prognosticator does say any of three of the six teams could very easily finish atop the standings.
Last year, the Rams (6-4) finished third during the regular season and were a field goal away from advancing to the BCFC title game.
And that is one area Joseph wants to address in 2017: generating touchdowns rather than field goals.
Langley scored 34 offensive touchdowns — 21 through the air and another 13 along the ground — and were second with 32.3 points per game.
But Joseph lamented the points left on the field: 34 times the Rams settled for a field goal attempt (making 25 of them).
By comparison, the two combatants in the 2016 title game, the Westshore Rebels and Okanagan Sun, were both well above that ratio: the league champion Rebels had 45 offensive touchdowns compared to just 15 field goal attempts while the runner-up Sun had 28 touchdowns compared to 19 field goal attempts.
“That has been my focus, scoring points (especially) in the red zone, and getting touchdowns,” Joseph said.
This has meant extra work in red zone preparedness during training camp.
“For our offence, I want them to develop that killer instinct,” he explained. “And for our defence, when you are backed up, you need to force kickers to beat us. That has definitely been one of our focuses.”
Who will be directing the offence remains to be seen.
In 2016, the quarterbacking duties were split between a trio of pivots, with none of them able to firmly grasp the starting reins.
One of those three, Colby Peters (40-for-74, 691 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions) is locked in a battle with newcomer Rylan Matters.
As of Monday, Joseph wasn’t tipping his hand at which of the two would line up under centre, instead saying he wanted to see which quarterback better grasped the week one game plan.
The running game returns its three running backs as the trio of Joseph Carter, Tyrel Ogloff and Nathan Lund are back, as are two receivers who featured prominently in the run game, Ryan MacDonald and Nick Agnoletto. Another returning weapon is former quarterback Stephen Legare who is making the move to receiver.
The six racked up a combined 1,533 yards along the ground as well as seven touchdowns.
Joseph said the plan is to maximize the players’ abilities and play to their strengths.
The receiving game does return four of its top five pass-catchers and the quartet of Khalik Johnson, Agnoletto, MacDonald and JJ Jackson combined to haul in 81 catches for 1,391 yards and a dozen touchdowns.
Ask any football coach and they will tell you the game is won in the trenches along the line of scrimmage.
“I think our strength is going to be up front, on both sides of the ball,” Joseph said, adding that the team is bigger and stronger up front.
“And that bodes well for us, when you are able to control the line of scrimmage.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the Rams lost their two most productive pass-rushers but do return Jacob Dodd (second on the team with 27 total tackles, two forced fumbles) Isaiah Stewart (25 total tackles, four quarterback sacks) and Adam Marchetti (20 total tackles, 4.5 quarterback sacks).
The defence was second in the league with 14 forced fumbles but came up with a league-low five interceptions, compared to double digits for the other five teams.
Langley was the only one among the four playoff teams to finish minus (-6) when it came to the turnover battle.
Just under half of Langley’s 65-player roster are newcomers and Joseph cited a trio of local products from the Langley midget Stampeders program: offensive lineman Chris Derksen and defensive backs Kyle Clarot and Nathan Murray.
“(They are) from our own backyard, which is extremely important to the organization,” the coach said.
Last year was Joseph’s first as head coach but he also doubled as the team’s defensive co-ordinator, his previous role. This year, the defence will be under the guidance of Jeff Alamolhoda — the Rams head coach prior to 2016, before stepping away for a season.
Joseph admits it was a learning curve for him as a first-time head coach, especially one wearing two hats.
“I learned how to manage a football game and keeping our players calm and understanding the game plan,” he said. “And now, I am going to have a better ability to make sure the team is focused on the overall big picture.”
One area he will address is discipline.
“I thought we were a good team which made dumb mistakes in crucial times and that is my focus this year.”