BURNABY MOUNTAIN — It’s a vast understatement to say that a lot has happened since the last time the football team at Simon Fraser University found itself in the day-to-day preparations associated with the run-up to a season-opening game.
It’s also the best way to set the scene for the NCAA’s only non-U.S. school, which as of Monday sits one week into fall camp and some 19 days ahead of its 2021 opener at Div. 1 FCS foe Idaho.
Simon Fraser football, currently part of a mix undergoing a program-wide nickname change for all of its teams, is coming off a COVID-cancelled 2020 season by playing its games this season under a new head coach at its freshly-minted multi-sport stadium at Terry Fox Field.
There are fresh starts, and then there is the one the SFU football will undertake, especially when it plays its first of three regularly-scheduled home games Sept 18 (6 p.m.) against the Central Washington Wildcats at its sparkling new digs, now complete with covered grandstand seating and media box facilities.
“It’s great to get back on the field because we haven’t been in formation in a long, long time,” admitted SFU head coach Mike Rigell, who was named the team’s head coach back in March of 2020, just days ahead of the province-wide pandemic lockdown, and has guided the program for what will have been a span of 18 months without a game.
“I like the intensity I am seeing, with guys just flying around,” continued Rigell, who had previously served in top roles on the SFU staff of Thomas Ford, who left the school to join the staff of the Washington Huskies for the 2020 campaign. “But I especially like how guys are enjoying the camaraderie and the team bonding process.”
Simon Fraser’s football evolution during the pandemic has not remained static.
A combination of 2019 redshirts coupled with incoming 2020 and ’21 recruiting classes has created a roster heavy in youth.
The team’s current roster has 49 players of various ages sharing the designation of freshman eligibility.
Yet if there is one area easily identified as a team strength, it’s at quarterback where a pair of sophomores — each with plenty of valuable GNAC playing experience — return to challenge each other for the starting pivot position.
“It’s a great competition and that’s what we want, we want to breed competition,” said Rigell when asked about redshirt sophomore pivot Justin Seiber and pure sophomore slinger Brandon Niksich, each of whom have appeared, independent of the other, in nine SFU games spanning the 2018 and 2019 campaigns.
“It’s great to have two experienced guys, because you know you’re always going to need two quarterbacks, and possibly a third depending on injuries and just trying to stay healthy,” added Rigell. “Both of those guys have great field command.”
As a refresher, the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Seiber (Kent (Wash.)-Kentwood HS) finished sixth in GNAC passing (1,116 yards) appearing in eight games as a pure frosh in 2018, platooning that season with senior Miles Richardson.
In Simon Fraser’s 2019 opener at Portland State, however, Seiber suffered what would wind up being a season-ending ankle injury, prompting Ford to bring the 6-foot-5, 180-pound pure freshman Niksich (Federal Way (Wash.)-Todd Beamer HS) to the fore.
In nine subsequent starts, Niksich navigated a tricky road with success, finishing third in GNAC passing (1,926 yards).
Now, with a young offensive line taking shape in front of 5-foot-9, 200-pound returning running back Mason Glover (Kent (Wash.)-Kentwood HS) and a rising receiving core led by the likes of 6-foot-2, 190-pound junior Robert Meadors (Vancouver (Wash.)-Heritage HS), 5-foot-8, 165-pound sophomore Riley Morrison (Bothell (Wash.) HS) and touted 6-foot-2, 181-pound freshman Caelin Johnson (Ballard (Wash.) HS), the key process ahead is gaining chemistry and experience under fire.
By all indications, the quarterback environment is as Rigell described it, and what we expected it to be: A great competition.
It’s also one of great mutual respect.
“Off the field, we’re both in that playbook together,” explained Niksich without hesitation when asked how he and Seiber have gotten after things over the past year-and-a-half. “We’re bouncing ideas off each other, talking about everything. On the field, both of of us are doing our thing, trying to make the best plays and congratulating each other when that happens. It’s healthy. It’s better than anything.”
Seiber, who has placed a premium on team togetherness (“One hundred per cent. Especially through COVID. There have been a ton of obstacles and the only way to get through this has been to stick together… to believe in each other”) transfers the identical school of thought to his relationship with Niksich and the rest of the team’s quarterback room.
“Just as we talked about with regards to the whole team coming together,” he said, “every position has its share of battles and competition going on in camp, but no matter what, we all have to support each other.”
Ask one about the other’s greatest strengths and that much is clear.
Says Niksich of Seiber: “He is extremely smart. He knows everything… everything about the defence and everything about the offence. He’s got a good arm. He loves to make plays. But honestly, when I think about him, the biggest thing is how smart he is.”
Says Seiber of Niksich: “That guy has a cannon, and he knows how to make big plays happen, which is great. We are just pushing each other. I think we help make each other better.”
(Varsity Letters will continue to look at various position groups within the Simon Fraser football team throughout the next few weeks.)
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