After a disheartening 2018 season for the Kamloops Broncos, the climb out of the basement of the British Columbia Football Conference (BCFC) begins with a single step.
Unfortunately for them, those first few steps will have them walking right into the league's best.
"Thank the scheduling gods for giving us the (Okanagan) Sun and then Langley (Rams) right after that," jokes new head coach Rob Ellis. "It was really nice of them."
The Broncos open their new season this Saturday (Aug. 3) against the perennial powerhouse in Kelowna, before hosting the defending league champion Rams for their home opener on Aug. 10.
But as Ellis optimistically notes, their opponents won't be able to make a specific game plan against this Kamloops team, after the organization was entirely overhauled this offseason.
"The one thing we have going for us is that they don't really have a scouting report on us because so many players have come in from back east," says Ellis. "We know what other teams have based on their rosters and their low attrition rate. I guess we're the unknown entity coming into the season."
The Kamloops front office went through major shakeups this winter, installing Ellis as the new coach and having Darren Watt take over as team president.
Roster-wise, Ellis says around "25 to 30 players" remain from last season's 0-10 team. As for new recruits, most of their players were pulled from the centre of the country, gathering talent from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario.
"It's really hard when you have so many junior teams inside one province, to get players up to us. Langley and Chilliwack are the Lower Mainland teams and the Island has their pool too. Again, it's respectability. Once we establish that we're competitive and we can offer some winning success, we'll start getting the rewards from that."
The team did add some B.C.-based players, including new starting quarterback Nick Nica. The 20-year-old comes to Kamloops after two seasons with the Valley Huskers where, as a backup, he passed for 444 yards, three touchdowns, six interceptions and a 36 per cent completion percentage.
He takes over the reins of a passing offence that averaged a league-low 6.1 yards-per-attempt in 2018. Ellis says one of the goals this year is to stop calling as many RPOs (run-pass options) and allow Nica more basic concepts that he can easily read pre-snap.
However, Ellis, a former running back himself for the Richmond Raiders, envisions the offence being powered by the ground game. Noting that it's been one of the team's strengths during training camp, he wants his team to grind out the clock and limit the opportunities for the other team
"For us, it's going to have to be mistake-free football. That's hard to do, but the other teams are so good in this league, that we can't help them out," he says. "It's a young roster, but it's very talented and we have to minimize the mistakes."
Coming off a three-year stretch where the Broncos have gone a combined 4-26, Ellis knows that the team won't get back to relevancy overnight.
"I would be happy with two wins if you want to put a quantity to it. Building from the ground up, it's hard to quantify what success is going to be but there's more stability obviously right now," he says. "The board is strong, the coaching staff is strong and the players are enjoying themselves, so that's the first step. The second step, hopefully, it translates to success on the field. When we look back on the season, we're going to have to really key in on the areas that we need to build on recruiting-wise."
The Broncos home opener is Aug. 10 at Hillside Stadium. It starts at 6 p.m.