Mathe Mitayango bounces a run to the outside during the Winnipeg Rifles’ annual Black and White game at St. Vital Mustangs Field on Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018.
AUGUST 12, 2018 — Noah Wilson last suited up for the Winnipeg Rifles at the end of the 2015 season.
The 22-year-old didn't waste any time getting after the quarterback in his return to the lineup.
Wilson, a six-foot-two, 230-pound defensive lineman, sacked Team Black quarterback Riley Naujoks three times and led a stout defensive effort for Team White as it claimed a 19-4 victory in the annual intersquad game on a sweltering Sunday afternoon St. Vital Mustangs Field.
The quarters were capped at eight minutes as a result of temperatures that soared in excess of 35 degrees.
"I was ready to comeback and I've been waiting for this for a long time," Wilson said. "I'm happy with the outcome and I could've had some more."
"I decided to come back because football is where my heart is and I'm a competitor," he continued. "I thought it was a good year to come back and I like what's going on with the Rifles now."
Drenin Busch, who, like Wilson, is also entering his final year of Canadian Junior Football League eligibility, tossed a pair of second-half touchdowns for Team White as it scored 19 unanswered points.
He also threw two touchdowns in the Rifles' spring scrimmage on June 3.
The rookie quarterback, who spent last season playing linebacker with the Manitoba Major Junior Football League's Transcona Nationals, said he found his rhythm after an opening half which saw him only able to lead Team White to two field goals.
"I think at halftime when (head) coach (Geordie Wilson) talked to us ... he told us to get our heads together," Busch said. "I think everyone was scrambling around at the start and not sure what they were doing, second guessing themselves. However, in the second half I think we were more just playing football and not worrying if we were going to screw up or do the wrong thing."
Adam Gottfried opened the scoring for Team Black courtesy a single point that bounced through the end zone on the opening kickoff. He added a lengthy field goal on the last play of the first quarter, which was full of penalties and several miscues — procedure, offside and too many men chief among them — on both sides of the ball by both squads.
The choppy play continued into the second quarter, but that's when running back Mathe Mitayango started to grind out yards on the ground.
He rallied off a couple of punishing runs that led to a pair of Busch field goals, the first from 39 yards out and the second from 31 in the final minute of the first half to give Team White a 6-4 advantage.
Mitayango keep his legs churning early in the third quarter, grabbing the ball after Busch juggled the snap, found a crease, bounced to the right side and galloped over 60 yards before being tackled inside Team Black's 10-yard line.
"The heat was getting to me and I don't know what happened but I had a clear lane to run," Mitayango said.
Two plays later Busch tossed a short pass to his left to Cole Chowen, who scampered into the end zone for a nine-yard major. Busch added the extra point to make it 13-4 and the score remained that way entering the final quarter.
Mitayango strung together a couple of more strong runs to eclipse the 100-yard mark as Team White kept the ball away from Naujoks and the Team Black offence.
With Brandon Urciuoli absent, Mitayango made his mark rushing the football.
"Last year I didn't really play as much as a tailback but coming into the season I was like, 'I want to be that guy, the next guy,'" Mitayango said. "I've trained my ass off and just try to do my best."
After Team Black was unable to convert two third-down conversions, Busch salted the game away with a 65-yard scramble that set up a five-yard touchdown pass to Eric Klein in the final minute to make it 19-4.
"It's good to get these games in. The last time I would've played quarterback was October 2015 ... so it's been a while since I had in-game action," Busch said. "It's definitely very valuable experience getting ready for the upcoming season in case Riley can't go for whatever reason."
His head coach liked what Busch has done in the two games he's suited up for since spring camp in May.
"He outplayed Riley both times so going into this week Riley is still our starting quarterback," Wilson said. "But in saying that it's not like Drenin is way behind him."
The Rifles open the 2018 campaign on Saturday, Aug. 18 against the visiting Edmonton Wildcats, with the game taking place at Mustangs Field at 7 p.m.
Mason Rody is looking forward to his rookie season with the Winnipeg Rifles.
BY NATHAN LIEWICKI/FOR THE BRANDON SUN
AUGUST 4, 2018 — There was never any doubt Mason Rody wanted to continue his athletic career in the Canadian Junior Football League after graduating from high school.
The only question that remained was which organization would he wind up with.
Rody, a six-foot-two, 170-pound receiver from Dauphin who started playing the sport in Grade 5, went to Vancouver Island in May where he tried out for the Westshore Rebels of the British Columbia Football Conference.
The Rebels wanted the 18-year-old to sign a CJFL contract with them but Rody opted to stay closer to home and inked a deal with the Winnipeg Rifles.
"I like how the coaches are with us and it seems like we have a good chance to win the championship," Rody said after practice during the opening week of main camp in St. Vital.
The Rifles posted a 4-4 record last year and earned the Prairie Football Conference’s fourth and final post-season. They nearly scored a major upset in the semifinals only to fall 28-21 to the eventual PFC and Canadian Bowl champion Saskatoon Hilltops in Saskatchewan.
Winnipeg added a handful of new receivers as part of its 2018 signing class in an effort to provide more downfield weapons to its pivots and bolster the team’s long-term depth on the outside.
Unlike the vast majority of his teammates and fellow rookie receivers, Rody enters his first CJFL campaign with an added learning curve.
He was part of three consecutive Rural Manitoba Football League championships with his hometown Clippers — Dauphin downed the Moosomin Generals 48-40 last fall, blew out the Generals 34-8 in 2016 and needed overtime to upend the Neepawa Tigers 17-16 in 2015 — but that was in a nine-man circuit.
With the Rifles, Rody is learning to tackle the challenges of an expanded playbook and playing in the traditional Canadian 12-on-12 game.
"It’s quite a transition," he said. "The plays are totally different and there’s new positions I have to learn. I have to learn the routes for every position on the field just in case I have to go in.
"I’m used to knowing my one, two, or three routes but it’s definitely a big change."
In addition to perfecting the slant, corner, go, in and out routes he’s used to, Rody will have to work on crisp button hooks, out and ups and myriad other routes, as well as learning to block effectively if he’s going to make his mark on the offensive coaches.
Rifles receivers coach Jeff Anderson sees potential in Rody.
"He’s tall, he’s athletic and he’s got some good hands," Anderson said. "I think he’s showing potential and that why we kept him. The thing is you can’t teach size and I think his speed can be improved on and that’s something he can work on over the next couple of years."
The challenge for Anderson is to make sure Rody remains focused and disciplined if he is going to achieve his short- and long-term goals.
"I don’t know if I teach them, they have to be motivated," Anderson said. "I think the motivation comes from the fact that we are an elite team and he’s got a chance to continue playing football. If he realizes that he has to show it and want to study the playbook so he knows what’s going on."
"Football is a mental game so if he shows up — and knows what he’s running — he can focus on how to beat the guy that’s over him, how to read the zone, find the hole and communicate with the quarterback. These things come with repetition and he’s a good athlete who will learn this stuff over time."
There aren’t many first-year players that see a ton of game action but Rody is thinking big and hoping to learn from fellow receivers Brendan Naujoks and Griffin Shillingford in a quest to earn a prominent role on the Rifles by the end of the season.
"My goal is to be a starter always but I understand in my first year it may take a bit longer to get there," Rody said. "Eventually I want to transition into one and there’s injuries all the time and I want to make sure I get my reps in and everything is up to date."
Who’s excited for the upcoming Winnipeg Rifles training camp?
JULY 26, 2018 — With the dawn of a new Canadian Junior Football League campaign on the horizon, the Winnipeg Rifles are eager to launch training camp.
The two-week camp and battle for positions on the depth chart begins on Monday, July 30, with practices held at Mustangs Field on weekdays from 7 to 9 p.m., which will be preceded by meetings from 6:15 to 6:45.
This will all lead up to the annual Black and White game on Sunday, Aug. 12, which is scheduled to kick off at noon.
Winnipeg opens the Canadian Junior Football League season on Saturday, Aug. 18 when the Edmonton Wildcats pay a visit to Mustangs Field. Kickoff is 7 p.m.
Team Black receiver Eric Klein dives for a ball during the fourth quarter of the Winnipeg Rifles’ spring game on Sunday afternoon.
JUNE 3, 2018 — Drenin Busch threw a pair of second-quarter touchdown passes and Team Black's defence held Team White out of the end zone to secure a 14-6 victory in Sunday's spring scrimmage at St. Vital Mustangs Field.
Spring camp began Friday evening with current and prospective Winnipeg Rifles players battling it. The action continued in the rain on Saturday and culminated with the annual spring scrimmage.
Head coach Geordie Wilson said after the game that he hoped the offensive production would have been better but wasn't surprised the defences, with their myriad of stunts and blitzes, had strong showings.
Returning running back Mathe Mitayango started strong for Team White with a handful of piercing runs through the middle of the Team Black defence.
Mitayango's powerful running set up the opening score of the game in the first quarter as Stewart Campbell booted a 35-yard field goal through the uprights.
Mitayango and Brandon Urculoi will likely form the one-two punch at the tailback position when the Rifles open the Canadian Junior Football League campaign in mid-August, but Wilson liked the way Austin Klein performed over the weekend, including in the scrimmage for Team Black.
"Austin Klein is kind of like our Swiss Army knife," Wilson said. "If we go to five (receivers) he can go right into it and we don't have to sub him out.
"He did a great job on blitz pickup today and saved the quarterback's rear end a few times and he's a good runner too."
Overall, Wilson is quite pleased the running back depth the Rifles have, with the play of rookie Jarett Hicks also catching his eye.
The tailbacks were collectively running behind an offensive line that Wilson had questions about entering spring camp.
He leaves the weekend feeling much better about the group of big boys he has up front.
"They're getting better and actually I'm feeling very confident in them," Wilson said. "I'm confident in about eight deep ... comfortable putting them on the field."
Team Black's offensive line provided tremendous pass blocking as Riley Naujoks marched it down the field early in the second quarter, but Dominic Horvath got a hand on Naujoks' third-down pass from the five-yard line to force a turnover on downs.
However, the next offensive series for Team Black finally resulted in points.
Busch found a wide open Eric Klein in the seam for a 21-yard TD strike to put Team Black up 6-3, with Busch tacking on the extra point.
With the first half winding down and Busch driving Team Black down the field, Busch threw a perfect ball to Griffin Schillingford, who beat former Dakota Lancer and rookie Everett Lenz on an out and up, for a 30-yard major.
Busch kicked the extra point to give his squad a 14-3 advantage at halftime.
Lenz might have been beat for a long touchdown but fellow Team White defensive back Riley Tougas, a former Elmwood Giant, looked strong in the secondary during the scrimmage. So too did young Team Black defensive back Bryce Marino.
"Neither one of them were at our mini camp but they played well and had good games both of them," Wilson said.
The second half only featured one scoring play, with rookie Eric Adams of Steinbach connecting on a short field goal for Team White midway through the third quarter to trim its deficit to 14-6.
As players on both teams rotated in and out, the defences shined in the second half. Running lanes were few and far between, while neither offence was able to move the ball too much, with the slight advantage going to Team Black.
Team Black had a chance to seal the game in the final minute of the game but Lenz picked off Naujoks near the goal-line with 30.6 seconds left to keep Team White's thin hopes alive.
Rookie linebacker Thomas Moline sacked Kyle Logan on the last play to preserve the win for Team Black.
NEW RECRUITS: Stay tuned for our 2018 signing class, which will be unveiled Thursday evening.
Winnipeg Rifles veterans Hayden Nellis, left, Andrew Ricard, too right, and Brendan Naujoks are in main camp with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
MAY 30, 2018 — As the Winnipeg Blue Bombers continue to prepare for their pre-season opener against the Edmonton Eskimos at Investors Group Field on Friday, a trio of 22-year-old Winnipeg Rifles veterans could very well find themselves dressing for the Bombers.
Andrew Ricard, Brendan Naujoks and Hayden Nellis were invited by the Canadian Football League club to participate in rookie camp and they have continued to train with them during main camp.
Nellis, a six-foot-five, 275-pound defensive lineman, is the only one of the three who is in his first camp with the Bombers.
After the second day of rookie camp, he was pumped about the opportunity to learn from guys trying to cut their teeth in the professional ranks.
"It's a really amazing experience," Nellis said. "Just the knowledge I learned in the first 40 minutes I'm going to take that and it's going to correlate to my Rifles season.
"It's really nice to hear it from a new voice."
But he admits there were a few nerves before he stepped on the IFG turf for the opening day of rookie camp.
"I was actually terrified stepping on the field," Nellis said with a laugh. "I was super excited to get my ass whopped by the veterans ... and I'm excited to lose some refs to them and learn how to get better."
Still, he's trying to be a sponge and soak up everything that he sees and hears, and hopes to have the impact on his Rifles teammates that Naujoks, Ricard and former teammate Xander Tachinski had when they returned from Bombers camp last spring.
"Last year when Ricard, Jokes and Xander came back they were men amongst boys," Nellis said. "Ricard probably had the best year as a DB in the whole entire league — he got snubbed as an all-Canadian — and Xander and Jokes did unbelievable. So it was really cool to see that this small experience impacted their seasons so much."
Ricard, a six-foot-two, 195-pound defensive back, parlayed his time with the Bombers in 2017 into a monster Canadian Junior Football league season. He led the Prairie Football Conference with five interceptions — two of school he returned for touchdowns — added 27 total tackles, forced one fumble and defended three other passes, and returned to Bombers camp seeing the game better.
"I learned to slow down my game and just let the offence come to me and unfold in front of me, and not get so eager to back peddle and get into my zone," Ricard said. "I'm more patient.
"I got a bigger football IQ from being with the pros, learning and seeing stuff come faster and at a higher level. Now I can see things a lot quicker and I feel like my reaction time is a lot better."
Ricard added that keying in on his reads is the biggest thing he's trying to work on with Big Blue.
As much as he's looking forward to his fifth and final year with the Rifles, Ricard has bigger things in mind.
"The ultimate goal is I want to be here and I want to do whatever I can to make this team, but when I come back to the Rifles we're going for the natty (national championship)," he said. "Everyone on the team is hungry and there are a bunch of fifth-year vets that know it might be their last year of football.
"I'm going to bring a lot of intensity and emphasize that this is our last year."
Naujoks came into the Bombers camps with a couple of things in mind.
"I needed to prepare better and to learn the speed of the game," he said. "You've got to make friends because the more voices you have in your head and the more the vets you're talking to the better it gets."
The six-foot-two, 210 pound receiver hauled in 10 passes for 172 yards and one touchdown last season with the Rifles, and is striving to make that extra play all over the field with the Bombers.
He noted it's great having some fellow Rifles there with him.
"We're all friends and it's pretty nice to have my teammates around here," Naujoks said.
However, Naujoks expects to take on more of a leadership role with the Rifles when his time with the Bombers ends.
"I have to take the leadership role that some of the older guys taught me," he said. "Then I want teach everybody to work hard and remind them to make plays when they have the opportunity to because it doesn't come around all the time."
COACHING: The Rifles are looking for an apprentice offensive line coach to work under O-line and head coach Geordie Wilson. He is looking for someone who truly loves football & working with the big boys. The right applicant will be paid a small honorarium. Please contact Wilson at Riflescoach@gmail.com if you’re interested in the position.
Riley Naujoks will be under centre for the Winnipeg Rifles this Prairie Football Conference season.
May 16, 2018 — More than 100 players from Manitoba, northwestern Ontario and Saskatchewan will be in Winnipeg for spring camp from June 1-3, looking to earn a spot on this year's version of the Winnipeg Rifles.
The three-day camp will be held at the Rifles' facility, the home of the Manitoba Major Junior Football League's St. Vital Mustangs.
Practices will begin on the Friday (7-9 p.m.), continue into Saturday (10 a.m.-noon and 2-4 p.m.) before culminating with a two-hour scrimmage Sunday that starts at 11 a.m.
The Rifles, which posted a 4-4 record in the Canadian Junior Football League's Prairie Football Conference last year and reached the semifinals before being handed a 28-21 loss to the host Saskatoon Hilltops, return 51 players.
Winnipeg will be led by a handful of fifth-year players, including cornerback Andrew Ricard, defensive lineman Hayden Nellis, receivers Brendan Naujoks and Griffin Schillingford, centre Brody Jones and middle linebacker Donovan Hillary.
Ricard, Nellis and Naujoks will all be participating in training camp with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, while former Rifle receiver Xander Tachinski will also be at camp.
But the most pivotal position on the field will be occupied permanently by a new quarterback as Riley Naujoks steps in under centre.
He split reps last season with Jonathan Remple.
Head coach Geordie Wilson is excited to see Naujoks take over as the team's starting quarterback.
"Riley can make all the throws necessary in our league," Wilson said. "He is developing as a leader and we expect him to develop into a top-flight starter in the league this season."
Another player to keep your eye on is second-year running back Brandon Urciuoli. He only carried the ball seven times last season but Wilson sees Urciuoli making big strides this year with the Rifles.
"Brandon has trained his butt off this off-season and he is primed and ready to do some damage in the PFC," Wilson said.
The backfield will be a three-headed monster with second-year back Mathe Mitayango and fourth-year back Austin Klein competing with Urciuoli for playing time.
On the other side of the ball, the defence has potential to build off a strong 2017 campaign, which saw it allow an average of 28.8 points per game.
Machour Akau will lead the push from his position on the defensive line.
The former Carleton University Raven is finally healthy following a complete knee reconstruction two years ago, suffering the injury while playing U Sports football in Ontario.
"When healthy he can be one of the best pass rushers in the nation," Wilson said of Akau.
Another defensive lineman who worked his tail off during the off-season is Justin Kwiatkowski.
The third-year defender has a high motor and is capable of playing any positon along the line and wrecking havoc in the backfield and at the line of scrimmage.
Other than Ricard, the Rifles secondary was a young bunch last year but played very well, especially down the stretch. Wilson expects them to blossom into great unit this year.
There are several rookies on both sides of the ball to keep tabs on.
On offence there's offensive lineman Miguel Leano from Tec Voc, receiver Luke McMilllan from Miles Macdonell, receiver Eric Adams from Steinbach, Saskatchewan-based receiver Colt Beswitheric, St. Vital quarterback Kyle Logan, Jarrett Hicks, a running back from Dryden, Ont., and running Back Rig Moulebou from Daniel McIntyre.
The defensive rookies include Dalton Grant, a defensive lineman from Moosomin, Sask., defensive lineman Devyn Turner from St. Paul's, former Dakota Lancer defensive back Nick Conway, Kadin Tayler, a defensive lineman from Dryden, Tyler Bueckert, a linebacker from Steinbach and Dryden linebacker Thomas Moline.
Wilson is looking forward to the start of spring camp and believes there's plenty of depth across the board, with rookies pushing for playing time.
"This will be the most competitive camp that I have had in the past three years," Wilson said. "Every position group is deep and a number of players are pushing for playing time."
The Rifles will set their final roster of 80 players at the conclusion of camp.
Winnipeg opens its main training camp on July 30, with the season beginning on Aug. 18 versus the Edmonton Wildcats at Mustangs Field at 7 p.m.
Offensive lineman Curtis Krahn is looking forward to trying to crack the Edmonton Eskimos roster.
MAY 15, 2018 — Former Winnipeg Rifle Curtis Krahn is getting used to wearing green and gold.
The six-foot-three, 295-pound offensive lineman from the University of Calgary was selected in the fifth round, 40th overall, by the Edmonton Eskimos in the Canadian Football League draft on May 3, and he's still coming to terms with the prospect of playing professional football.
"It's crazy," Krahn said. "I never would have thought starting football at 19 that it was going to amount to this, but I'm definitely excited and looking forward to the opportunity."
The 25-year-old watched the draft at home with his parents Walter and Yvonne, plus an old high school friend, Vellan Vadivelu, and remembers the moment he heard his name called.
"I was waiting for the screen to refresh because it was live online and my mom's phone refreshed before mine and she started yelling. She was like, 'Curtis Krahn, Edmonton!'" Krahn said. "And then I started getting phone calls from Edmonton."
"It was hard to hear, there was lots of yelling going on," he added.
Krahn was a physically imposing high school athlete with the Louis Riel Voyageurs, with basketball serving as his biggest passion.
In fact, it was on the hardwood that coaches began to ask Krahn if he had ever played or might considering taking his athletic abilities onto the gridiron.
He joined the St. Vital Mustangs of the Manitoba Major Junior Football League for the 2012 campaign, learning the nuances of being a defensive lineman.
It was at that time Mustangs head coach Jeff Neville suggested he try out for the Rifles.
Krahn went to spring camp the next year and made the team but he was moved across the line of scrimmage to the offensive line.
"The second I got to the Rifles I knew absolutely nothing about offensive line," Krahn said. "Getting moved there was an eye-opener."
Although there were times where the transition from defensive to offensive line was difficult, Krahn became adjusted to his new role, playing at both guard and tackles while also receiving practise reps at centre.
He credits offensive line coach Chris Bochen and assistant O-line coach Stephen Fedus for the roles they had in his early development.
"It was nice to have coaches that knew a lot about the game and were passionate about the game help me grow as a player," Krahn said.
Following his two seasons with the Rifles, Krahn garnered lots of interest from Canadian universities but chose to head to Alberta and suit up with the Dinos in the Canada West conference.
"Part of me wanted to grow as a person so moving away from home gave me that opportunity to focus on football and also look at that as a growing experience as a player and a person," Krahn said.
He played three seasons with the Dinos, which included reaching the Vanier Cup in November 2016, only to see the Laval Rouge et Or come out on top in the national title game, 31-26 in Hamilton.
It wasn't until after the 2017 season ended, courtesy a 35-23 loss to Laval in the Mitchell Bowl, that Krahn, who started all 11 of Calgary's games at left guard, considered playing at the next level.
He received an invite to the western regional CFL combine in Winnipeg, which took place in late March, and six weeks later he became an Eskimos draft pick.
Krahn is driving to Edmonton for training camp on Tuesday, with practise sessions commencing five days later.
Although he has dreams of one day hoisting the Grey Cup, Krahn has small goals for his first foray into the CFL realm.
"I think it's just to go in there, do my best and see what happens, hopefully perform in the exhibition games and get a shot to play a little bit in those games and show what I can do," Krahn said.
He's sure the Eskimos' offensive line coaches have a few tricks up their sleeve that will be passed onto him to help him improve his technique and abilities but Krahn admits when he does get a chance to be on the field for his first game he will feel butterflies.
"It's probably going to be nerve-racking and stressful leading up to that moment," Krahn said.
But exciting all the same.
"I'm just look at it like just go out and enjoy it there and enjoy the process," Krahn said. "It's a new chapter."
Curtis Krahn a former offensive lineman who was with the Winnipeg Rifles during the 2013, 2014 and 2015 seasons was drafted in the Fifth round, 40th overall this evening in the CFL Draft. After his time with the Rifles Curtis played for the University of Calgary Dinos.
Congratulations Krahn from the Winnipeg Rifles!
Congratulations to former Winnipeg Rifle Curtis Krahn for being drafted to the Edmonton Eskimos in the 5th round, 40th overall.
Billeting a Winnipeg Rifle player involves providing accommodation as well as the “family” atmosphere in terms of meals etc. As Winnipeg Rifles players range in age from 17-22 the “family” atmosphere is one that is generally expected a young man of that age would receive at their own home.
Billeting can be a rewarding experience for both the player and billet family.
Billeting is often the preferred method for our 1st or 2nd year players in the age 17-18 year old range as they transition to living on their own. Our 17-18 year player’s parents often prefer billeting for their son.
Billets are paid a monthly agreed upon amount from the player or player’s family.
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