Imagine never having played a down of organized football in your life, and then successfully making the Kamloops Broncos junior football team as a 17-year-old rookie.
That’s the improbable story of Merritt’s Karun Randhawa and the far-fetched childhood dream that he has turned into a living reality.
“Ever since I was 10 years old, I’ve wanted to play football,” Randhawa said. “I have an older cousin who actually played for the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, and he was a really big influence on me.”
Growing up, the odds were very much stacked against Randhawa ever getting to handle the pigskin in an organized game. After all, the Nicola Valley has no minor football program whatsoever, and Merritt Secondary School has not fielded a high school gridiron squad since the 1970s (when it produced former CFL linebacker Steve Harrison of the Ottawa Rough Riders).
It took an earnest conversation with another former UBC Thunderbird player to get the ‘football’ rolling for Randhawa, who begins Grade 12 at MSS in a few weeks time.
“I got a ride to one of our basketball games last year with Mr. Lancaster (a teacher at MSS and assistant coach with the senior boys’ basketball team). We got talking about football, and my dream of playing the game one day. He was an assistant coach with the Kamloops Broncos last year, and he said that he could get me a tryout with the team. I have him to thank for getting my foot in the door.”
Lancaster put Randhawa in touch with Broncos head coach Duncan Olthuis, who invited the Merritt youngster to his team’s spring camp on the May long weekend.
“I went up to Kamloops and stayed with a cousin,” Randhawa said. “We had two full days of practice followed by one day of scrimmages.”
Randhawa conceded that everything at spring camp was a huge learning curve for him.
“The first day, I didn’t even know how to put on and lace up my pads,” he said. “Luckily, the guy beside me in the locker room showed me how to put everything on.”
Things went well enough at spring camp that shortly thereafter Randhawa received an email inviting him to the Broncos’ main camp in July.
“It was evident quite early that he had a lot of potential,” Olthuis said. “There’s a lot for him to learn about football, but he has tremendous athleticism, and he’s a very quick learner.”
The Broncos’ main camp ran for two full weeks in the middle of July, with practices Monday to Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Hillside Stadium in Kamloops.
Randhawa would work all day at his family’s retail business (Bob’s Mini Mart) and then commute over to Kamloops for his workouts, which ended with a mandatory weight training session in the gym.
“I was lucky enough to make the team,” Randhawa said, “so all through August, I’ve been driving to Kamloops every weekday for practices. Now we have games on the weekend, too.”
Things will only get more challenging in September as Randhawa tries to fit in a rigorous football schedule with his final, all-important year of high school.
As a first-year player, and one of only three 17-year-olds on the Kamloops team (junior football is for young men 18-22 years of age), Randhawa’s playing time in the Broncos’ first four games to date has been understandably limited.
“In the first game (against the Langley Rams), I didn’t play at all,” Randhawa said. “In the second game (versus the Valley Huskers in Chilliwack), I played one down on the defensive line.”
Things have really picked up for the Broncos’ rookie from Merritt in his team’s last two outings (a rematch against the Huskers on Aug. 10 and this past Saturday’s game against the Okanagan Sun). Randhawa has been assigned to some special teams situations.
“I’m starting to see more of the field,” he said. “I just love the game. I love the atmosphere, and the feeling of being a big family with your teammates. You have to know your job, and do your job, because the guy beside you is counting on it.”
The fact that the Broncos are winless after their first four games (0-3-1) hasn’t dampened Randhawa’s enthusiasm one bit.
“We’re a young team, and we have a lot of potential. In our first couple of games, it’s just been small mistakes that have cost us. I know that we’ll get better, and we have no doubt in our minds that we’re going to make the playoffs. We just have to get the train going.”
Olthuis sees a bright future ahead for the walk-on with a dream from Merritt.
“It’s very rare for someone who’s never played the game to make a junior football team. If he sticks with it, in a couple of years I think [Karun] will be very good, and one of our better defensive players.”
“It’s been hard, and it’s been a big jump,” Randhawa said, “but I love it.”
About the British Columbia Football Conference
The BCFC was formed in 1947 with four founding members: the Vancouver Meralomas, the North Shore Lions, the Vancouver Blue Bombers and the CYO Red Raiders. Since then, there have been 23 different franchises take part in the league.
Today, the BCFC is comprised of six teams: the Langley Rams, the Valley Huskers, the Okanagan Sun, the Vancouver Island Raiders, the Westshore Rebels and the Kamloops Broncos.
BCFC teams have won the national title on seven occasions: the Vancouver Blue Bombers in 1947, the Vancouver Trojans in 1982, the Okanagan Sun in 1988 and 2000, and the Vancouver Island Raiders in 2006, 2008 and 2009.
The BCFC takes great pride in being a stepping stone for players as they advance their football careers. Hundreds of BCFC graduates have gone on to play at the college, university and professional levels. Since its formation, 120 BCFC alumni have played, or are currently playing in the Canadian Football League. They include legendary Hamilton Tiger Cats kicker Paul Osbaldiston and current B.C. Lions running back Andrew Harris.
BCFC MISSION STATEMENT: The British Columbia Footbal Conference supports and advances opportunities for 18 to 22-year-olds for character building, personal health and wellbeing, leadership and skills development through playing organized and competitive Canadian football.