There are two more sleeps remaining until the start of the Blake Nill-era at UBC.
With his first Point Grey fall camp behind him, Nill and his young charges left earlier this week for Laval and Saturday’s ambitious preseason clash with the vaunted Quebec team.
On Thursday, in advance of Saturday’s kick-off, Nill joined provincesports.com by phone for the following Q and A interview:
The Province: What is good for your team about having the national spotlight on it to open the season?
Blake Nill: We just got off field practicing with Laval right now and what this experience is doing for these kids is giving them a level of where they need to gauge themselves. I thought we just competed well with them in our first intergrated practice. We will practice with them again tomorrow, and Saturday when the live bullets are fired we can compete at a level that has maybe surpassed what we have done in the past.
TP: So you were actually on the field, practicing against the same team you will play Saturday?
BN: I have done this the last three years (at Calgary). I bring my teams in here and we practice and have that live content with one another. One of the reasons, quite frankly, is that this trip has a fairly significant cost, and so we want to get the most out of it.
TP: Do you think your scheduling Laval to open both your season and your career at UBC sends a message to your guys as to how high you are shooting?
BN: I believe so. I hope so. There is no question that year-in and year-out, (Laval) is the program everyone’s gunning for and they do a lot of things really well here If we can identify even a few of those things and bring that back home and incorporate them effectively, we should be that much better.
TP: Laval is established, they win like crazy and they are so deep. You have stated you want UBC to be ‘The Laval of the West’. Looking forward, what have you identified as one aspect of the UBC program you want to immediately try and improve?
BN: If you are asking me right now what the No. 1 area of concern with this program is, I would tell you it’s the depth. I have very good football players on this team, just not enough of them and that will take time to get there. But this year, I thought we had one of top recruiting classes in country. One site named us the tops in the country, and I am hoping that we can do that consistently. Year in and year out. That depth will get better over a few years. It’s that thing we have to establish. We have to say our 2’s and 3s as competitive as our No. 1’s.
TP: Speaking of that depth, compare and contrast that with what you had in Calgary.
BN: At Calgary, we were the No. 1 drafted team in the CIS. So more players, and this is straight facts, we had more players drafted into the CFL in the last 10 years. When you get guys that are not even starters in your program and CFL teams think they are draft-worthy… that is what I am trying to attain here. Getting to a place where UBC athletes will be big, strong, coached well enough and have the mental mindset to compete fully. Hopefully that comes to hold true.
TP: The first two dates on the 2015 UBC schedule are daunting to say the least. But also, they must contain a component of emotion for you. First it’s Laval, whom you met in the Vanier Cup, and then your old team at Calgary, in their park!
BN: The home game is going to be an emotional time for sure. I am very close to my ex-players at Calgary still. I had tremendous relationship with coaches there. They are close friends and I respect everyone fully. I am on the other side of field now but I have to have the same intensity and drive to go against them. I have to have the same passion which I coached with at Calgary.
TP: Was the Canada West doing its best to create some opening-week drama in the conference by sending you and the boys to Calgary?
BN: They won’t say it, but it’s a nice coincidence.
TP: Let’s talk about three key players. First, your veteran running back Brandon Deschamps.
BN: He’s unique because he is a young man who I had to compete against year-in and year-out (at Calgary) and it’s unusual to have a longtime rival be an ally. But he has handled it well and is going to do a great job. He is one our leaders, a go-to-guy. I need him to steer the ship in the right direction and in that regard, I think I have the right guy.
TP: What about Marcus Davis. He’s a guy that can line up anywhere in your offensive playbook.
BN: Marcus is our most dangerous player as an individual and we have to get the ball in his hands 15-to-20 times a game and we have to do it in different ways. Not just catching the ball or coming our of the backfield, but variations. We have to make it tough for our opponents and I think that as a staff, we understand that. He’s a very quiet guy but not afraid to shoulder the responsibility.
TP: And of course, your quarterback Michael O’Connor, the Penn State transfer, has become the face of the program before you’ve even taken your first live snap.
BN: He just had a tremendous afternoon here against Laval. He brings a level of professionalism that I don’t think most guys have seen from the past. It’s going to become the norm with us.
TP: Win or lose, and I know you want to win, what will playing Laval in week one do for your program?
BN: It’s an experience that will make us better. We have to compete harder than this team ever has, against an opponent that is the best they have faced. And they have to stress themselves and determine that they are able to deal with that stress. It will make us stronger. And then we have a similar task the next week in Calgary. Coming out of those two games, we will have faced two of the toughest teams in the country.
Editor’s note — The ‘Birds kickoff against Laval at 10 a.m. Satutday. UBC’s home opener is scheduled for Sept. 12 (6 p.m.) at Thunderbird Stadium, against the Regina Rams.