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Croxford football connection alive and well in the Okanagan this summer

“[The Sun] were close to winning a championship last year and just missing a few pieces, so I’m hoping us Airdrie boys can come in and help fill those key areas, and help bring the team to a championship.”

A trio of W.H. Croxford alumni will reunite on the football field this summer for the first time since their high-school days.

Cavaliers graduates Kai Olsen, Charlie Simmons, and Jamal Bacchus will be playing for the Okanagan Sun junior football team in this summer’s B.C Football Conference (BCFC). The U21 summer league is affiliated with the Canadian Junior Football League, which intends to provide talented young players a stepping-stone from high-school football to university-level programs.

Olsen, a 2020 graduate of W.H. Croxford and a former receiver with the Cavaliers, said he’s excited to resume his football career after spending a year and a half away from the game.

The 19-year-old said the opportunity to join the Kelowna-based Sun arose through his friend and former Cavaliers teammate Charlie Simmons.

“He’d heard about the program they were building [and] I just kind of hopped on his train,” Olsen said.

“Originally, I’d had an offer coming out of high school from the Sun, but I turned it down because I didn’t really want to continue on with football. But after a little bit of time off, I realized I’d love to keep playing this sport.”

Also a 2020 graduate of W.H. Croxford, Simmons is familiar with the BCFC, having previously signed with the Vancouver Island Raiders in Nanaimo.

Olsen said he and Simmons have already been rooming together in Kelowna for over a month, training with the Sun in preparation for the 2022 BCFC season starting on July 23. Olsen added he’s been impressed, both by the natural beauty of the Okanagan and his new team’s sense of professionalism.

“Initially, it was the city [that attracted me], but after I’d moved here and saw their whole program, and the way they were running things, I was a little bit astounded by how they’re treating this,” he said. “Honestly, it feels like I’m competing in the NCAA. Their whole thing is so well put together.”

Simmons and Olsen won’t be the only Croxford connection in the Okanagan Sun’s line-up this season, as 2019 graduate Jamal Bacchus will also be joining the team.

Bacchus was a star receiver for the Cavaliers in 2018, and was the only Airdrie player to play in Football Alberta’s Senior Bowl all-star game in 2019, during his Grade 12 year.

Like Simmons, Bacchus also spent time with the VI Raiders, joining the team in 2019. The lack of a BCFC season in 2020 as a result of the pandemic meant he thought his football days were over.

Bacchus was coaxed back to the football field last summer, however, when he played for the Airdrie Irish competitive men’s team in the 2021 Alberta Football League season.

Unfortunately for Bacchus, a positive start to his time with the senior men’s team was cut short in his second game, when he suffered a torn ACL.

Almost a year later, Bacchus said he’s still in the last stages of recovery from that injury, but added he’s nearly at the point of return.

During his rehab a few months ago, he had a conversation with the Okanagan Sun’s head coach about joining the junior program.

“I wasn’t sure what my options would be for football this year after coming off an injury last year, so when I heard that, I was ready to jump on the opportunity,” the 20-year-old receiver said. 

“It’s a great opportunity, a great team, and we’re excited for the chances we have this year. [The Sun] were close to winning a championship last year and just missing a few pieces, so I’m hoping us Airdrie boys can come in and help fill those key areas, and help bring the team to a championship.”

Bacchus, Simmons, and Olsen aren’t the only Croxford football alumni plying their trade in B.C.’s junior league this summer. Former quarterback Keegan Henderson, and former slot receiver Keagan Proudlock (who originally signed with the Sun in 2019) are also slated to play in the BCFC this summer.

The growing number of Cavaliers alumni competing for junior teams is a sign of the high-school football team's growth in the last few years, according to Bacchus, and gives current Croxford football players a goal to aspire towards.

“Me and Keegan Henderson were coaching for Croxford last fall as well as at their spring camp recently, and it feels good to give back and give the kids a look at, hey, at one point, we were in your shoes learning this stuff on the practice field, brand new to football and getting the hang of everything,” he said

“Now we’re moving onto the second level and have opportunities. They have the same opportunities – they just have to go get it.”

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