On Wednesday, August 23, the T-Birds will meet the University of Alberta Golden Bears in Kamloops to end the nine month-long CIS football drought.
This marks UBC's only preseason game, but according to head coach Blake Nill, it still holds significance to the Thunderbirds.
“Exhibition football is necessary because it takes time to start getting your mindset focused on the reality of the game,” said Nill. “The challenge for the coaches is to try and create a situation where the kids realize that they’re being evaluated on their play, and to go out there and give their best performance.”
Allowing the team’s veterans to knock off the rust, as well as providing an opportunity to younger athletes, makes the exhibition game an important component of the Thunderbirds’ preseason preparations.
“We’re going to designate times during the game where veterans will be the primary focus, then more youth-oriented,” said Nill.
But why Kamloops, in place of Vancouver or Edmonton?
Without a university football team of their own, the city is instead host to the Kamloops Broncos, a Canadian Junior Football team with an attendance of around 1,000 fans. The Broncos have sparked a small, but growing football community.
At the high school level, two Kamloops high school teams — the Westsyde Blue Wave and Valleyview Vikings — drew a crowd of 1,300 fans to a showcase matchup in 2014, proving their is an across-the-board fan base for football in the interior. For that level of the Kamloops football community, the ‘Birds and Bears exhibition game will provide welcomed exposure to CIS football.
For the Thunderbirds coaching staff, exhibition football in Kamloops is seen as an opportunity to spread the good word of UBC football.
“There’s financial factors, but the primary reason is we want to grow and expand our product,” said Nill. “By going into a location [that is] not experienced with university football, it helps us showcase the product.”
This product is dependent on an influx of young talent; Kamloops isn't short on potential varsity athletes, with the city churning out 14 provincial all-stars in 2016.
“Kamloops has pretty good high school football. It’s an opportunity to come in and show them your players, and what they’re made out of,” said Nill.
Nill not only sees the match up as an opportunity for his current team, but for future prospects. “It’s a recruiting opportunity, always.”
The game is slated to kick off at 6 p.m. on August 23 at Hillside Stadium in Kamloops.