A Fraser Valley native has come home to try to do what many think impossible, turn the Valley Huskers into a competitive football club.
Bob Reist, who was born in Mission and played junior football with the Abbotsford Air Force, takes over a team that is 1-29 over the last three seasons and goes through head coaches like some people go through cell phones.
Reist is the sixth Husker bench boss since 2007 and faces a massive challenge. But minutes before a mid-week training camp practice at Exhibition Stadium, the coach sat in the stands, looked out at the green expanse and seemed to be right where he wants to be.
“I’m a competitor who likes a challenge, and this is a challenge no doubt about it,” he said, looking relaxed and smiling. “The struggles are well documented. I’ve used the term ‘eyes wide open’ with a lot of people who’ve offered their two cents on this situation, and certainly you don’t go through six head coaches without having issues and problems, but I did my research and took this job knowing the difficulties that are ahead.”
Recruiting may be the biggest issue for the Huskers who compete with the likes of the Langley Rams, Okanagan Sun and other BCFC squads for the services of top prospects.
It’s an uneven playing field financially, with the small-wallet Huskers lacking the financial clout of deep-pocketed rivals.
“We’ve talked about having the budget and resources to build a winner because I took this job to try and build a program and that’s a huge part of it,” Reist said. “We need to do a better job of reaching out into the community and searching for the support that will help us compete with the teams that have a lot of private backing.
“I do feel like this situation can support a competitive team that battles for championships year in and year out but it’s going to take a lot of work building up relationships on both the fundraising and recruiting sides.”
Reist draws inspiration from Victoria’s Westshore Rebels, who experienced a dramatic turnaround last year after spending several years as a B.C. Football Conference punching bag.
“If you put the right people in place and have a solid game plan in place, change can happen fast,” Reist said. “Is it a guarantee? Of course not, but we can be an upper echelon team if people are willing to put in the work.”
The biggest obstacle Reist must overcome is the Huskers’ history. Prospects aren’t jacked to come to a team that doesn’t win, ever.
“It’s not a topic we hide from or avoid and it’s not as bad as you think where people go, ‘Oh gawd no, I can’t go there!'” Reist noted. “A lot of the local kids said, ‘Hey listen. I like what you’re saying and I like where I think you’re going to go, but for this year I need to here (somewhere else).
“But the response from a lot of out-of-town kids was, ‘Let me at it. I want to come in and make this team better.'”
Reist was hired deep in the offseason and had a late start recruiting.
A couple high profile locals, like graduating GW Graham star Miguel Wood, went elsewhere.
“I got to talking to Miguel fairly late with the timing of my hiring and I think he had his heart set on the Sun from the beginning,” Reist said. “So it was tough losing him, but we also signed some very good local talent like Michael Lengert and Jamie Bessette and Devan Voss.
“We build onto that for next year and I fully expect our Valley recruiting to go nowhere from up from here on in.
“Five kids from Chilliwack turns into eight or nine down the road and that’s what we’ll continue to build on because Chilliwack will be a huge area of focus for our recruiting.”
Reist, who joined the Huskers from the coaching staff of the U-Sports Manitoba Bisons, added several players from the prairies and is particularly excited about his defensive backfield.
But he is realistic about the 2017 season.
“Our goal is to be competitive right now, but does that translate to going from 0-10 to 10-0?” he said. “No. The road ahead isn’t easy, but I do expect us to put wins up this year and compete for a playoff spot and I fully expect by next year to be a playoff-bound team.
“Seventy per cent of our players are new to this year and don’t care that the Huskers went 0-10 last year. The slate’s wiped clean, we are getting after this thing with a chip on our shoulder and we’ll see what happens.”
Reist’s crew opens the season on the road vs Kamloops July 29.
The home opener vs Langley is Aug. 5 at Exhibition Stadium with a 7 p.m. kickoff.