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Smeysters gives Huskers a second chance

Eric J Welsh, Chilliwack Progress – 7/22/2010

Rookie Dylan Belair turned in a solid pass-catching performance in a 36-0 pre-season loss to the South Surrey Rams. Belair and company get the regular season started tomorrow, hosting Victoria at 2 p.m. at Exhibition Stadium. Photo: Eric J. Welsh/ Progress

Pre-season being what it is, game results should always be taken with a grain of salt. We probably shouldn’t read too much into Chilliwack’s performance last weekend against the South Surrey Rams.

But here are a couple things we may have learned watching the Rams dismantle the Huskers 36-0 in a BC Football Conference exhibition game.

Number one.

Quarterback Clayton Kroeker may wish to consider taking out a life insurance policy, lest he get killed behind an offensive line that has a lot to clean up.

Number two.

John Smeysters may be Kroeker’s best friend if the second year pivot ends up running for his life.

Standing six-foot-five, the hefty slot receiver showed a knack for getting open, hauling in five passes against the Rams. More importantly, he caught the ball when it was thrown to him — a simplistic observation, but an important one for a Huskers squad that seems to be perenially plagued by the dropsies.

“I tell him every play, ‘Kroeks. Throw me the ball. I’m wide open,’” Smeysters said. “I think I’ve gained his confidence and we’re ready to roll.”

Smeysters isn’t entirely new to the Huskers. He was seen briefly in Chilliwack at the start of last season before disappearing abruptly five games in. In his short stint, Smeysters caught eight balls for 167 yards and one touchdown.

“The way it was run, I had problems with a couple of the coaches and just felt a great amount of disrespect from them,” Smeysters elaborated. “One game in particular, I didn’t get any reason for why I wasn’t playing. I figured I was wasting time here, so I took off.”

With football running through his veins, Smeysters continued to train diligently. When the Huskers turfed former head coach Howie Zaron following the 2009 season and installed Luke Acheson in his place, Chilliwack once again became a viable option for the ex-W.J. Mouat Hawk.

“I figured I’d give it a shot and see what kind of program he runs,” Smeysters said. “Spring camp was very impressive, a lot like what I saw at the University of Alberta.”

If anyone would know what a good football program looks like, it would be Smeysters, who was part of provincial championship teams at both the community and high school level.

“Spring camp was very professional and the environment around here is just drastically changed from this time last year,” he said. “The attitude the coaches have towards the players, the way they’re trying to change things here, it’s really dramatic.”

If he’s healthy and happy, Smeysters can add a lot to the Huskers. He was the defensive MVP of the Abbotsford Falcons (minor football) 2001 provincial titleists and was named the Subway Bowl MVP in 2005, leading his high school Hawks to the AAA provincial crown. He loaded up his trophy shelf in 2007 when he was named the conference offensive MVP and AAA provincial player of the year.

He’s keeping his expectations in check as the Huskers prepare to face Victoria in Saturday’s regular season opener (2 p.m. at Exhibition Stadium), but he likes what he sees so far.

“We’re really young, the whole team, and we had some really bad plays against Surrey,” he said. “But we also moved the ball well at times and I’m already seeing improvements. You can tell we’ve got depth in the receiving corps, and the young guys are going to step up big.”

What excites Smeysters the most is the opportunity to once again work with Kroeker. This time last year, the younger brother of former Huskers pivot Ryan Kroeker was a wide-eyed rookie, doing all he could to simply tread water in a faster and stronger league. This year, the 19-year-old has an air of command and confidence as he runs the offence.

“He’s not that rookie anymore,” Smeysters said. “He knows the game speed and knows what’s coming at him. Big improvements from last year and we’re all excited to have him as our number one Q.”

Kroeker, Smeysters and company face a tough test Saturday against a Rebels team that is among the pre-season darlings. The Rebels roughed up the Huskers in their only meeting last season. Victoria thumped the locals 59-14 in week two, led by a rushing attack that rolled up 185 yards on 21 carries (8.81 average). The Rebels lost their only pre-season game, dropping a 42-24 decision to the Vancouver Island Raiders last weekend.

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