The Winnipeg Rifles have a new top gun.
Ryan Karhut was named head coach of the junior football team last week, replacing Greg Graceffo, who stepped down after three seasons.
Karhut, a Fort Rouge resident, was an offensive lineman at the junior, NCAA, CIS and CFL levels before getting into coaching.
Most recently, he was the offensive co-ordinator of this year’s Vidruk Division champion Kelvin Clippers.
Having played five seasons for the Edmonton Huskies, a Prairie Football Conference rival of the Rifles, Karhut is excited to be back in the junior circuit.
"It’s hard to put into words," he said. "I love junior football. I have a lot of passion for it. It’s a unique league and I love it a lot."
Karhut believes he picked up attributes from every coach he played under. He hopes to combine those qualities into something that makes the Rifles a perennial contender.
"Mike McLean with the Huskies taught me (about playing) as a family," Karhut said. "George O’Leary (at the University of Central Florida) taught me about discipline.
"Brian Dobie (at the University of Manitoba) taught me about game management and people management. And Marc Trestman, in Montreal, taught me about how to prepare for a game, and the work and effort it takes from everyone in the room to ensure success."
After one season at UCF, Karhut joined the Bisons and captained the team to a Vanier Cup championship in 2007. He played three seasons with the Alouettes.
Now his job is to rebuild a team that went 1-7 last season after losing most of its veterans to the U of M.
"We’ve got to change the culture a little bit," he said. "It’s going to take a lot of hard work. We have to do all the little things to make sure we come out on top."
After watching game film from last season, the coach said discipline and effort were not always on display. Karhut’s first job will be to recruit not only a new crop of players, but to convince the current Rifles to come back under his regime. Realistically, he’s expecting the rebuild to take three to five years.
"No matter what you try to win every game," he said. "But it’s not going to happen overnight as much as you want it to."
As much as his focus will be on building a strong on-field unit, Karhut is also aware of his role in shaping young men into community leaders.
"One of the special things about junior football is you’re getting the players from 17 to 22," he said. "That’s a huge development time in their lives. They come as boys and you want them to leave as young men who are strong contributors in society."