This Rebels season carries significance for the Cardilicchia clan. In 1998 the franchise re-branded from the Vancouver Island Sharks, it was John Cardilicchia’s first year as head coach of the team and his son, Charly’s first year playing for the squad.
Fast forward 20 years and Charly is now the head coach, John is the special team co-ordinator and Charly’s son Isaiah, is in his first year playing for the Rebels.
Time has passed but the Cardilicchia’s love for football hasn’t.
John, who has been coaching for almost 30 years, said he is nearing the end of his coaching career and was thinking about stepping away before this season, but football is where he feels most himself and having his grandson on the team convinced him to stay.
“Helping out last year and the year before, I’ve gotten to know a lot of kids on the team and when I’m out here on the field, I’m really in my skin,” John said. “Even though it’s hard to do, when I get out here, it’s like going fishing, time goes away, stress goes away…and to be able to do it with three generations on the field is very special and I feel very blessed for it.”
John has had a lot of special moments on the football field, he won a Vanier Cup with UBC in 2015 as an assistant defensive line coach to the Rebels hosting the CJFL Championship in 2016, but three generations within the same organizations competing at a high level is unique.
“It definitely something you don’t see very often, it’s rare,” Charly said.
John started playing football at 11 years old, and played in high school in his hometown of Hamilton. His main sport was wrestling, but he got more into football when his sons took it up.
Charly said he fell in love with the sport while playing Greater Victoria Minor Football and high school ball at Spectrum Community School in Saanich, and the University of Manitoba after a stint with the Rebels.
John got involved in coaching Charly for bantam football, did some announcing and then started coaching full time in ’93, taking a head coaching job with the Rebels in ’98.
Isaiah, 18, a wide receiver and slotback, started playing football at seven years old.
“I was in a stance since I was three years old, I always knew that’s what I wanted to do,” he said.
John remembers his grandson as a toddler at Rebels games just waiting for his chance to get on the field.
John and Charly co-coached Isaiah from grades 2 to 8, Charly ran offence and John would run defence, and was the coaching co-ordinator in his league. Isaiah is enjoying being back on the gridiron with his family, but he doesn’t see it as anything out of the ordinary.
“It’s just fun, it’s not too different because we’ve seen it before,” he said. “We haven’t done this in a while.”
Throughout Isaiah’s playing career he has played quarterback, slotback and linebacker, but he feels he’s best suited on the offensive side as a slotback, adding that directing the defence is something he feels he has a knack for.
Isaiah can attest that there has never been any nepotism when playing for his dad and grandfather, they all agree that Charly is sometimes harder on Isaiah than his teammates.
“He had me learning since a young age and he expects a lot from me,” Isaiah said. “He wants me to show that I undertsand the game at a high level.”
Charly and John both described Isaiah as hard-working, coachable, and a smart player. “His football pedigree does shine really bright as a football savy kid on the field, running great routes and he earns his own respect from his teammates,” Charly said.
“He works his a** off, he never misses a rep, he doesn’t expect anything, he goes out and earns it and that’s what I’m proud of,” John said. “Talent is one thing and attitude a whole other thing, he’s got a great attitude and work ethic.”
In John’s first season as head coach 20 years ago, 26 Rebels players went on to play CIS (the former USports) and four ended up being CFL draft picks.
Isaiah is hoping his work ethic and football acumen will help see the field as much as possible this season with the Rebels, but he said with the more experienced receivers he knows it will be tough. Growing up in a football family can carry a lot of pressure on the younger generations, but as tough as his dad is on him, Isaiah sets his own expectations.
“I put the pressure on myself. I do it in my own fashion and have them by my side,” he said. “I have pressure on me, but I don’t see it from them and my family.”
Isaiah is hoping to parlay his time with the Rebels into a college football opportunity in Canada.