KCS football athletes taking talents westward

(Originally published in the Kindersley Clarion – June 18, 2014)

kamloops_broncos_logoTwo Kindersley football players will take their talents westward after locking up roster positions in the Canadian Junior Football League (CJFL).

Offensive lineman Derek Walde and linebacker Ryan Fries will continue their football careers and move to Kamloops, B.C. in early July for the upcoming CJFL season. They will join the Kamloops Broncos in the B.C. Football Conference.

Walde and Fries, recent graduates of the Kindersley Composite School football program, tried out for the Saskatoon Hilltops in hopes of making the team. While they did not get the call back they hoped for, the Hilltops training camp prepared them for their Broncos tryout.  The signings come as a relief for both young men. If they hadn’t made the Broncos team, each of them would have likely played their last downs of competitive football.

Both of them have other passions and hobbies they could continue. Fries hunts, races at the Flatlanders Speedway, and fishes. Walde plays hockey and baseball. But both of them are most comfortable and passionate on the gridiron.

“I knew if I didn’t make it I wouldn’t be playing football again,” Fries said. “I’ve worked at football for five years and I’ve worked hard to make the next level. It’s paid off, I guess.”

“I was definitely pretty excited to hear I made the team. I was pretty worried that was my last time playing, but now I’ve got at least a couple years more,” Walde said.

Walde and Fries were greeted at training camp by Broncos head coach Duncan Olthuis. Olthuis wasn’t sure what to expect from the Kindersley athletes and didn’t think they looked like typical football players at first. With the weather in Kindersley not quite shorts-worthy yet, Walde and Fries showed up to training camp in Kamloops wearing jeans on a hot and sunny day.

“They’re not typical Kamloops kids because they’re from Kindersley and used to the cold. It was pretty warm here and they showed up in their jeans and it was kind of surprising, I was like ‘oh, you’re going to be in for a shock with this weather here,’” Olthuis said.

But Olthuis doesn’t judge books by their covers and waited for their on-field performance before passing judgement. His evaluation? The kids from Kindersley know their football, and are playing well beyond their years.

“I was pleasantly surprised when we saw them in gear and playing,” Olthuis said. “They have great talent, they’re great kids, and have great attitudes out on the field. From day one when they put those pads on, we loved what we saw,” Olthuis said.

Walde and Fries were on the field with many like-minded players – junior football athletes who take the sport seriously and want to succeed. Making the roster is a big achievement and was accomplished not only because of their skill on the field, but knowledge of the game.

“His tenaciousy and what he knew just coming out of high school, I was kind of surprised when he told me he was coming straight from high school,” Olthuis said of his conversation with Walde at training camp in early May. “From seeing him play it looked like he knew his position, guard and centre. He knew what he was doing and it looked like he was a couple years out of high school and playing junior before.”

Fries hopes to be involved on special teams this season and get a little bit of playing time on the starting line-up, but he’s not sure of that possibility. Walde believes that he is in contention to take over one of the starting roles on the offensive line. During training camp he was taking some first team reps.

Coach Olthuis believes both players might be under-selling themselves and have the potential to crack the starting line-up. Olthuis believes Walde and Fries can start if there’s an injury or if they beat out an incumbent in their corresponding positions. The head coach said there’s definitely a role on special teams for Fries and he’s not that far off from getting a lot of playing time at linebacker or even halfback.

“We saw his speed and I think he can play a little defensive secondary at halfback,” Olthuis said. “It’s not that far off from a linebacker spot, it’s a little bit different. But I think they both have a chance at cracking the starting lineup, for sure.

“They’re both not the typical straight out of high school kids from the talent that we saw from them. They’re both football smart and they’re very, very tough kids. Typical Saskatchewan kids, right? They’re tough kids and that’s what we like to see.”

These “Saskatchewan kids” also know the game of three-down football, which is an added benefit. Fries and Walde have been playing the three-down game since grade eight and 10 respectively, while the high school athletes in British Columbia will have to adjust from playing four-down football to the Canadian way once they join the CJFL.

However, Walde and Fries won’t be free of all growing pains when they join the Broncos. Olthuis notes the Kindersley Composite School graduates will need to adjust to the speed of the game, which will be much faster than their games in a high school Kobras uniform.

The move to Kamloops is a big one, and can be intimidating to a fresh high school graduate. Walde and Fries will miss the days of playing high school football, but they’re proud to take the tradition of Kindersley football with them.

“It’s taught me everything I’ve known, other than the odd camp. They’re the reason I’m making it,” Fries said.

“Everything that I’ve done so far, I owe it to the football program here,” Walde added.

The pair have received top-notch coaching during their time in Kindersley from the likes of Casey Potter, Blair Fredrickson, and Al Neufeld a former CFL’er who played for the Ottawa Rough Riders.

They’ll leave the small stage of high school football to a slightly bigger and brighter pond of Kamloops with larger crowds (with many faces whom they will not know) at Hillside Stadium, and T.V. coverage.

“If you make a mistake in high school I don’t think many people see it besides your coach. But there, it’s going to be all over the place. It’s going to be way more intense,” Walde said.

“It’s starting a new chapter, it should be interesting,” Fries said.

Fries is in the process of finding a place to live, and will search for a job once he gets out west. Players are allowed to stick with the Broncos program until they are 22 years old, meaning both players can stay with the Broncos for five years if they choose to.

However, Olthuis and his coaching staff treat their program as a stepping stone to Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) competition. The Broncos won’t try and keep their players for the full five years and encourage their athletes to get to the next level after a couple of years of play.

Fries does not have any university plans at the moment, and would be content with playing five years of junior football. However, if the opportunity arises, he would consider joining the CIS. Walde will study education at Thompson Rivers University and would love to take his game to the next level in the CIS. Coach Olthuis believes after some experience, learning the intricacies of their positions, and some maturation the Kindersley products could be fit for the university football if they choose to do so.

“I believe so in a year or two once they’ve gotten playing time at the junior level with guys of the CIS age. I think they’ll be ready in a year or two to go,” Olthuis said.

But for now Walde and Fries prepare for preseason camp in early July and the start of the regular season on July 26.

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