The Kamloops Broncos tasted success for the first time in the B.C. Football Conference last season, and now they are hungry for more.
The Broncos, featuring five Fulton Maroon grads – Mike Ochoa, Lucas Hofer, Kyle Richardson, Tanner Bishop and Broden Romanovitch – earned the team’s first-ever playoff berth after going a program-best 6-4. They finished third in the six-team Junior A circuit.
Hofer, 19, who started a couple games at halfback, was named the Broncos’ Special Teams Player of the Year. Given this award is usually handed out to a kicker or returner, it makes it a little more special for the 5-foot-10, 180-pounder.
“It’s odd that I got it,” said Hofer, who is taking electrical trades courses at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops. “I had some good blocks and tackles though.
“We had a great year, and I’m really proud of them (Fulton contingent). It’s great to see friends continue to play and excel and get better.”
Hofer said Ochoa, a middle linebacker and defensive captain, narrowly missed out on earning Kamloops’ Top Defensive Player.
Richardson, a linebacker, led the Broncos with six tackles and three assists in their thrilling 48-46 BCFC semifinal loss to the second-place Langley Rams (7-3). Ochoa had one tackle and four assists and Hofer recorded a special teams tackle.
“It was cool,” said the 6-foot, 200-pound Richardson, of the playoff experience. “It really makes you want to come back next year and do it all over again.
“We came really close in that first playoff game. It was pretty intense.”
Kamloops’ quarterback Steve Schuweiler’s 543 yards passing in that game set a new CJFL playoff record.
Where Richardson once relied on athleticism to overwhelm opponents, he had to develop other facets of his game to match up with faster, stronger, more experienced players in the BCFC. He has learned to study the linemen he goes up against to see if their body positioning gives any hint of the impending play.
“I learned to look at the line, the guards. If they pop up real fast, it’s usually a pass,” said Richardson, who started the last four games.
“You need to know the game a lot better than you did in high school. You can’t just get by on skill. It’s technique, footwork and being able to read an offence.”
The Fulton fivepack commuted to Kamloops five days a week for practice after work. Packing that much beef – Bishop, an offensive lineman, is the biggest of the bunch – into one car only worked for so long. Hofer eventually moved there to start school, which provided a bit of a reprieve.
“That’s a lot of weight. You could almost see it (car) dragging in the back,” laughed Hofer, who would sometimes drive his 2003 GrandAm after finishing a shift as a landscaper.
“We had a few cars break down (blew a tire, and hit a deer). I had AC. It was pretty hot in the summer. It was a lot of time in the sun.”
The Rams are one of three teams (the Okanagan Sun and Vancouver Island Raiders are the other two) that the Broncos have never beat. Hofer thinks that could change next year as Kamloops begins its seventh BCFC season.
“We’ve got the same quarterback (Schuweiler) and he’s one of the best in the league. We’ve got a skilled corps coming back so we should have a pretty good year.”
On a personal note, Hofer added: “I want to be starting. I think it’s possible. We’re losing some of the starting guys and I’m training hard for it.”
The Broncos will have a new head coach next season as Duncan Olthuis stepped aside to pursue other commitments. Moving up from assistant is former CFLer Brad Yamaoka, who spent some time with the senior boys Kalamalka Lakers before the program folded.
“Brad grew up in Kamloops and played in the CFL. He’s kind of a hometown hero so it made sense,” said Hofer, of the former Winnipeg Blue Bomber and B.C. Lion.
Richardson likes Yamaoka’s style, saying: “He’s very assertive and gets things done in a certain way.”
Hofer and Richardson agreed playing for the Broncos was an easy choice (Hofer tried out for the Sun as well). They felt there was more opportunity for playing time, and they could keep the Fulton gang together.
“A lot of guys from Vernon have become interested in the last couple of years,” said Richardson.
“You’re more likely to get more playing time with a team that’s still building.”