Rolling into 40 years of junior football in Greater Victoria, the Victoria Rebels are kicking off the season with a name change, a scholarship and a retired jersey.
Coming into its third year based in Langford, the Rebels have rebranded as the Westshore Rebels, firmly entrenching the squad at Bear Mountain Stadium.
“As of today we are the Westshore Rebels,” past-president and Langford Coun. Roger Wade announced Thursday at a press conference. “I think the checkered plate (design) will give us that tough West Shore look.”
“We’ve had a great response from the West Shore community and businesses,” added Rebels president Les Bryan. “It’s the least we could do is change the name to ‘Westshore.’”
Bryan says the team has received considerable financial support from West Shore businesses, and that moving to Bear Mountain stadium from Victoria kept the team from folding.
“Building the stadium was huge for us, coming out here saved us,” he said. “When we were down and out, (Langford) helped us out. We are excited about our future on the West Shore.”
The team announced it is establishing a scholarship in partnership with the Victoria Foundation to help underwrite higher education for its players. The organization is also looking to lend a hand to football programs at high schools throughout the region – such as Belmont, Mount Doug and Edward Milne and the Spartans youth football club – including coaching and financial support.
“We want to help coach-wise and support those young players,” Bryan said. “There is a lot of great football in Victoria. We want to work closely with those groups.”
Wade also announced Thursday the team is retiring its first number in it’s 40 year history – No. 64 worn by famed Rebels alumni Moe Elewonibi from 1984 to 1986.
After playing NCAA Div. 1 football in Utah, Elewonibi was drafted into the NFL by the Washington Redskins in 1990 and earned a Superbowl championship ring in 1992. He also had a long career in the CFL with the B.C. Lions and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and is in the Victoria sports hall of fame.
“We will retire No. 64. It will never be worn by a Rebels player again,” Wade said. “We are proud to do this for Moe.”
The Rebels made the playoffs last year, but finished the regular season with a 4-6 win-loss record, with a roster of hard working, but inexperienced players.
“It wasn’t a lack of effort or a lack of toughness – it was a lack of experience,” said returning head coach John Cardilicchia. “I take everything last year as fertilizer, as building blocks for this season.”
Cardilicchia said he is busy trying to recruit local talent – he has his eye on at least 15 youth from high school teams in Greater Victoria, including Belmont. But he’s also hunting farther afield – ”from Campbell River to Newfoundland.”
“Last year we had a lot of good young talent. This year they are young but coming back veterans,” Cardilicchia. “The foundation looks solid. A lot of great kids are coming back.”
A rookie last season, Rebel Nick Lajoie, from Langford, cut his teeth with the Westshore Warriors (now the Spartans) and the Belmont Bulldogs during its first season as a team.
“I’ve gone to Rebels games since I was kid. I’ve wanted to play for the Rebels since I was little,” said Lajoie, 20, a defensive end.
Shane Little, 21 of Barrie, Ont., and Antonio White, 20 of Comox, said the team is coming back this year with a core roster of experienced players who have trained hard together in the off season.
“This year is different. This year we are more of a team, we are brothers,” White said. “We are more like a family now.”
“We’ve got a lot of veterans coming back. It will be a tougher team this year,” Little said. “Last year was Coach Cardilicchia first losing season ever. He expects big things and we’re not going to make it two years in a row losing.”
“I want to go and win the championship. That’s what I came back for,” White added.
The Westshore Rebels spring camp is April 8 to 10 at Bear Mountain Stadium.
The team is hosting its scholarship fundraiser and 40th anniversary gala April 9 at the Four Points Sheraton in Langford, April 9, dinner is 7 p.m. Tickets are $100.
Speakers include Wally Buono, head coach of the B.C. Lions and Geroy Simon, all time leading receiver for the B.C. Lions. The event will also feature live and silent auctions.
To purchase tickets, call Rebels GM Mike Cooper at 250-889-0875. For more information see www.westshorerebels.com.