VANCOUVER — Like all programs headed towards the fall sports season of play, the UBC Thunderbirds football team is keeping the health of everyone involved first and foremost during the coronavirus pandemic.
Yet not knowing what the status is for the upcoming 2020 Canada West gridiron campaign and beyond, head coach Blake Nill and company, like every other program across the nation, have had to continue to look forward, and that has meant keeping an eye on the high school players who will emerge as prospective future recruits from the incoming Class of 2021.
To that end, the Thunderbirds will meet on-line with over 100 current Grade 11 student-athletes for what it calls its Virtual Junior Day, actually a two-day happening set to kick-off on Wednesday.
The so-called rising high school seniors, who are slated for 2020 Grade 12 seasons and 2021 cap-and-gown grad ceremonies, will get a virtual meet-and-greet with the blue-and-gold’s football coaches and trainers, as well as get an overview of both the football program and the university.
“We have to remain at the forefront of a national recruiting effort and thus these junior days are critical for us,” admitted UBC head coach Blake Nill, who is quick to credit recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach Shomari Williams and a core of the team’s younger coaches for bringing the idea to fruition.
“The message we want to give to these high school players is that we are carrying on,” continued Nill. “Yes, we are dealing with a pandemic, and we have had to adjust and adapt just like everyone else has had to, but our plan is still to recruit the top student-athletes from the Class of 2021. This will be the start of it.”
UBC’s virtual Junior Day, believed to be a first nationally at any U Sports school, will include a quartet of two-hour sessions held over its Wednesday-Thursday duration.
U Sports student-athletes can sign letters of intent as early as Sept. 1 of their Grade 12 year and Nill said he was hopeful that some players from the team’s virtual Junior Day might be among that group.
Coming off a trying 2-6 campaign this past season, the 2020 campaign is certainly one in which the ‘Birds look, on paper, like one of the most improved teams in the nation, especially with a blue-chip recruiting class supplementing a roster which returns the vast majority of its talent.
Leading the way among the freshmen group are a pair of local stars in Vancouver College’s Jason Soriano and Kaishaun Carter of Burnaby’s St. Thomas More Collegiate.
Soriano, who starred on both sides of the ball as a 5-foot-9 defensive back, receiver, runner and kick returner, was named the B.C. Triple A Player of the Year in leading Vancouver College to the Subway Bowl provincial title back in December.
Carter, at 6-foot-2 and 245 pounds, starred all over the defensive and offensive lines for the Knights.
Both are accomplished two-sport athletes.
Carter helped lead St. Thomas More to the B.C. Triple-A basketball championships, while Soriano was expected to lead the Irish track squad to the B.C.’s in the fast lanes as one of the swiftest sprinters in the province before all spring championships were cancelled due to the pandemic.
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