Riley Naujoks will be under centre for the Winnipeg Rifles this Prairie Football Conference season.
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.
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