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Homegrown talent returning to join Herd

Players coming back from out-of-province schools

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HOME is where the heart is and linebacker DJ Lalama of Winnipeg hopes it's where the start is, as he's come home to play football for the University of Manitoba Bisons.

Lalama, who was on the practice roster of The Western Mustangs last season, is one of three Manitoba players who left other programs to play for the Bisons this season.

He is joined by receiver Danny Turek, who played the past four seasons for the Okanagan Sun junior team of the B.C. Football Conference and quarterback Théo Deezar of St. Paul's High School, who changed his plan of going to the University of Ottawa after a coaching change.

"It was about more than just football for me, it was also family, friends, academics... you look for something that can give every aspect and this was, without question, the best pick for me," Lalama, a graduate of St. Paul's High School, said on Monday during the Bisons' two-a-day training camp sessions which continue through Wednesday.

Lalama, the 2010 Winnipeg High School Football League's AAA Defensive Player of the Year and WHSFL Senior Bowl MVP, also had offers from Calgary and McGill.

"I had a great learning experience (at Western). It's an old cliché but sometimes you don't know what you have until it's gone," he said. "Coming home, with the support around you and getting to play football with the guys I've always played with, means a lot."

Living at home again with his family, Lalama has been reunited with high school football friends like running back Nic Demski and Deezar and other former St. Paul's players. He was also able to begin training during the off-season at Elite Performance with Jeff Fisher, Obby Khan and a number of other Canadian Football League players.

Lalama, who will be pursuing a degree in sports management, knows he's in for a battle in a linebacker corps that has three returning players, but said he's ready to put in the work to earn a spot on the team.

"I see a lot of young guys, a lot of determined guys and there's a sense of hunger here. Since '07, the last Vanier Cup team, the Bisons have had their ups and downs and a lot of guys are staying home now," said Lalama. "We're realizing we have something good coming, whether it's with the continued good coaching staff, the new stadium, the connection with the Bombers and us, it's something that everyone wants to be a part of."

Bisons head coach Brian Dobie said he "applauds" players who look for the best fit for themselves.

"I absolutely respect the decisions of players who go to other programs, but it's extremely important for us as the local program to recruit our hometown players because they're good and they deserve to be recruited," said Dobie, pointing to the fact that when he first started coaching the Bisons he recruited 70 per cent outside the province. Now the local high school and Rifles junior programs have grown so strong, that number is reversed.

"I'm extremely proud to have Manitoba players on our Bisons team, whether they stayed home or come to us from other programs. It says a lot about a person's character (to play in Manitoba) in terms of the friendships and allegiance to their developmental programs."

The Bisons training camp includes 87 players -- 55 returning and 32 new. Gone are four of last year's 12 starters on offence, including quarterback Khaleal Williams, and five are gone from last year's 12 defensive starters, including all-star defensive back Pete Adams.

The Bisons, who have not made the playoffs for the past four seasons, will play a pre-season game in Regina on Friday. The team's Canada West Conference opener is Aug. 31 in Vancouver against the UBC Thunderbirds. The home opener is Sept. 8 at 2 p.m. against the Saskatchewan Huskies.

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPAshleyPrest

Fierce camp battles shaping up

HERE'S a look at a few of the best positional battles in the University of Manitoba Bisons training camp this week at the U of M's Turf Field:

 

Quarterback: Ryan Marsch, the former Winnipeg Rifles star and Canadian Junior Football League's player of the Year, should have the lock on this but is being pushed by returning fifth-year Cam Clark, third-year Marc Paquette and freshman Théo Deezar.

Receiver: Bisons head coach Brian Dobie could only laugh and agree when asked if he had an embarrassment of riches at both the inside and wide receiver positions.

"I already told the players, they're all genuinely deserving of positions but there's only six or seven receivers who are going to Vancouver (for the first Canada West conference game on Aug. 31)

Key returnees: wide receivers Xavier Johnson, Brendon Bowman and Akeeno Williams; slotbacks Christian Hansen, Bryden Bone and Tyson Hinds

Notable newcomers: wide receivers Danny Turek, Alex Vitt and Matt Lariviere; slotbacks Derek Dean, Zach Regert and Rhys Hansen.

One position has already been filled by RB/KR Nic Demski who is expected to the fifth receiver in the five-receiver package.

 

Defensive line: Dobie has moved second-year Evan Gill from rush end to defensive tackle "to improve our overall pass rush." That leaves the rush end and two other spots on the four-man front open for battle.

Key returnees: DT Adam Hindley, DT Jesse Schryver, DE Lauren Kroeker and DE Connor Gudziunas.

Notable newcomers: rush ends Tavian Thomas, Ranji Atwall and Max Amyotte.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 21, 2012 C2

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