OVER 100 fresh faces, straight out of high school and midget club football, suited up for the Winnipeg Rifles rookie camp this week at Charlie Krupp Stadium.
The two-day camp, which wraps up today, was the largest in recent years for the Rifles, Manitoba's only team in the Canadian Junior Football League. For coach Ryan Karhut and his recruiting staff, the size of this year's camp is not only about trying to forget last year's failure to make the playoffs, but about trying to develop the game here in Winnipeg.
'We did a great job last year trying to change the image of the team in the local community, in the local football community especially, and it's working. Guys are responding positively to it and not only do we have great talent out here, we just got a lot of guys that are going to make our coach's jobs real tough to figure out what our roster is actually going to be'
-- Rifles coach Ryan Karhut
"Our coaches did a great job this off-season making sure we're talking to a lot of guys," said Karhut, going into his second-year as coach. "We did a great job last year trying to change the image of the team in the local community, in the local football community especially, and it's working.
"Guys are responding positively to it and not only do we have great talent out here, we just got a lot of guys that are going to make our coach's jobs real tough to figure out what our roster is actually going to be."
For many players out on the field, it was their first high-tempo practices of the summer and the coaching staff let them feel it -- and hear it, often -- with countless sprints and push-ups to finish off the two hours of work. Karhut said almost all of the rookies will move on to the main camp beginning today, but a big roster cut of about 30 players is expected after the August long weekend.
"We demand a lot," Karhut said. "And if you give us a lot, we'll give you every bit back right, so getting a lot of attitude and effort from these guys is what we really need. Once we get that, our coaches can take, shape that, mold that and make these guys into great football players."
The Rifles are excited and if they had to choose players they're most excited about, it would be running backs Odun Ogidan of Daniel McIntyre Collegiate and Xavier Prime of Oak Park Collegiate.
Prime, 18, opted to play junior football after receiving an offer to play with the University of Manitoba Bisons for the upcoming school year. Prime said he chose the Rifles because he sees it as a better opportunity for him to develop since he is likely to receive more playing time.
After only two years of football and going into his third, Ogidan is set to prove he is the real deal. The 19-year-old couldn't be touched in high school and he showed his incredible speed during the camp against much more experienced players.
"I started in Grade 11 and 12," Ogidan said. "I hated football, I was a basketball guy. Going into varsity, my basketball coach said 'Hey, try football, you might be good at it,' so I was like OK I'll give it shot... So in my first-year I did pretty good, broke the records for my records for my school, for the past running backs and loved the game. Since then just playing football, stopped playing basketball."
Ogidan wants to be a professional and it wouldn't be the first time a Winnipeg Rifle made the jump to the CFL or even got placed on a practice roster -- take current Blue Bomber Brett Carter for example.
"The ceiling is so high for Odun, he's a very, very athletic football player," Karhut said. "When I first saw him at the senior bowl, I expected him to be really raw because of his limited past but he's just not.
"He's very smooth, he transitions so well, super athletic and a great football IQ, which is something you don't really anticipate with a guy with so few years of experience."