Though the spring thaw has yet to bring the city’s football fields up to snuff, there is just a month now before Bisons football opens its spring camp.
One hundred players will flock to the fields at the University of Manitoba for the camp, from veterans to new recruits and walk-ons hoping for a shot. Eighty-four of those players will make the roster when Bisons football gears up in the dying days of summer. Of all the newcomers, six at least are already a lock.
"These guys have made the football team," said head coach Brian Dobie, beaming as he watched the sextet sign their letters of intent.
Those six would be the team’s latest recruits, unveiled on Tuesday and Manitobans all. Four are fresh out of high school, including Murdoch McKay quarterback Drenin Busch and his offensive lineman teammate Braedan Cheang, while two did time in junior football. They are just the vanguard of the incoming Bisons, out of about 25 players that Dobie has locked up. More will be announced shortly.
The six recruits unveiled on Tuesday also included 6-3 receiver Anthony Dyck, a two-time Winnipeg High School Footbal League all-star with Kelvin and the team’s 2012 offensive MVP.
And they added Riley Harrison, a Sisler grad who played quarterback and receiver and played for the provincial team at two consecutive Canada Cups. He will join his brother, Mitchell Harrison, a Bisons defensive back.
The Bisons also plucked two players from junior leagues, including Grant Park High School alumnus Dane Douglas, 19, who played with the Kamloops Broncos of the British Columbia Football Conference last year. The defensive back’s four interceptions tied for third in that league last year, and he also made 18 tackles. Rounding out the crew is Winnipeg Rifles defensive back and 2013 captain Eric Plett, who did two seasons of junior after graduating from Dakota.
There will be more, as the Bisons look to build on their spirited 2013 run that took them to the Canada West final — including, Dobie hinted, some hotly anticipated names coming out of B.C.
"One of the best B.C. recruiting classes I’ve ever had," said Dobie, noting it was good enough that an assistant coach out of B.C. sent him a congratulatory email on the personnel haul.
Time will tell if that announcement can match the excitement of last year, when Dobie announced the Bisons had landed standout junior pivot Jordan Yantz. Though Yantz has just one season of eligibility left, this means he has one season of mentoring the newest quarterbacks in the Herd. It can be a big jump from high school to the CIS, especially for pivots. But Dobie is ready to help Busch, a former Team Manitoba quarterback, bridge that gap.
"Drenin’s a young buck who has... been battle-hardened on a national level in the Canada Cup, and had a great career," Dobie said. "Heck, he’s willing to do anything on the field. He had a talk with me the other day about punting the football. He just wants to contribute, as soon as he can, and there’s going to be some development involved, for sure."
For his part, Busch is ready to learn from one of the league’s most dynamic passers, who he’s already seen in action on the field and in their shared training facility.
"I watched every game in Manitoba that they played and Jordan is a phenomenal quarterback," said Busch, who turns 18 this month. "He always wants to work harder than everyone else. I see how hard he works, it makes me want to push myself even further."
For Busch, though, at least one university out east was in hot pursuit but it was a no-brainer to sign on with the Bisons. He wanted to stay at home, and he was already close with U of M quarterbacks coach and one-time Vanier Cup-winning pivot John Makie, who guided Busch on the provincial under-18 team.