As injuries to key players mounted throughout the season, the challenges grew more pronounced with each week for the Okanagan Sun coaching staff.
On Sunday, with the depth of their roster and overall consistency both compromised, the Sun watched the 2017 B.C. Football Conference campaign end in a playoff loss to the Vancouver Island Raiders.
While the Sun hesitates to point to injuries as the sole alibi for a premature end to the season, general manager Jay Christensen said the club’s health—or general lack of it—played a significant role.
“It was definitely a bit of a challenge this year with injuries, more so than I can remember in a long time,” Christensen said.
“It made for a lot of roster shuffling, the coaches were really challenged in putting together lineups and game plans, especially late in the season. You don’t want to use it as an excuse but it certainly didn’t help.”
The injury parade started early with the loss of No. 1 quarterback Keith Zyla who spent the better part of the season on the sidelines.
The receiving corps took a big hit with significant injuries to Liam Crane, Shamar Donelson and Kyler Mosley.
Linebacker Shaun Robinson suffered a season-ending torn ACL Sept. 23 in Kamloops, while other key starters like Connor Novak, Beck Fullerton, Cole Klughart, Marshall Klein and Zac Newman all spent some unwelcome time rehabbing.
Still, Christensen said there were many positives from the Sun’s 2017 season, including a 6-0 start and an 8-1-1 overall record. On the injury upside, the Sun GM said many of the club’s younger players gained some invaluable experience.
“There was inconsistency at times but there were some great highlights this season, too,” Christensen added. “The good thing is, lots of young players got a significant amount of playing time, so there’s lots to build on.
“I know the coaches are already recruiting for next year, so we’re all looking ahead.”
For head coach Ben Macauley, his second season at the helm was both a rewarding and, at times, frustrating experience.
In addressing the Sun following Sunday’s final whistle, Macauley credited both the players and coaching staff for battling right down to the end.
“I pointed out some of the positives, this is the final game for some of them who have been here five years,” Macaualey said. “Five years of gruelling off season training and training camps, six-seven days a week of practise and film, so it’s a tough pill to swallow, especially to lose at home. A lot of these guys have football to play in the future but a lot of them don’t, probably the last time these guys wear equipment.
“It’s a great coaching staff, everyone’s working at their own jobs and putting in a lot of time here,” he added.
The Sun bids farewell to 10 graduating players: Beck Fullerton, Eli Haynes, Kent Lawrence, Liam Crane, Hayward Beasley, Rashaun Simonise, Gabriel St. Germain, Carter Comeau, Ryan Ewashko and Zac Newman.”