- Free Agency
Training camp is still over two months away but by all accounts, Danny Vandervoort is in mid-season form already. Training alongside veteran fellow receiver Chad Owens will definitely have that effect on most youngsters. Owens and Darian Durant have been leading daily sessions with a handful of players in Mississauga, Ontario and the Lions’ third overall pick from last year maintains it has been a big boost in his preparation for year two as a pro.
“The knowledge he has is second to none. Even during receiver drills he always corrects you and never lets you get away with not perfecting your routes,” Vandervoort said about the 35-year old affectionately known as the Flyin’ Hawaiian.
“Chad gets on you. All of his knowledge and little tricks have been awesome. He is like a little father figure to all of the young guys. Besides Chad Owens and Darian Durant, the rest of us are all pretty young. I try to soak it all in.”
The young group also includes quarterback Brandon Bridge and receiver Devon Bailey of Saskatchewan, Stampeders’ receiver Juwan Brescacin and Blue Bombers’ fullback John Rush.
Competitors between June and November, the off-season training and competition can certainly help players stay in the zone no matter what the calendar reads. Vandervoort has settled in nicely into the daily routine near his hometown of Barrie.
“It’s awesome because we have a good group of guys that push each other every day,” he said.
“On Monday, Wednesday and Friday we are in the weight room and then Tuesday and Thursday we are inside at the Hershey Centre, which has an indoor turf field. We’ll do some conditioning and footwork. So pretty much this whole winter we’ve been on the field, trying to stay sharp.”
Staying sharp is exactly the name of the game for Vandervoort in 2018. Despite a stellar four years at McMaster, where he hauled in 148 catches for 2,572 yards in 32 games and led the Marauders to an appearance in the 2014 Vanier Cup, the consensus from many after his selection by the Lions was that he was probably a year away from realistically competing for a role in the starting offence.
He still managed to suit up for all 18 games as a rookie. Although most of his action was on special teams, Vandervoort recorded his first career catch in a 42-41 victory over Winnipeg on July 21st. The leaping 25-yard reception helped set up a major by Chris Rainey that ensured the home side led by six points at the half. Despite the limited role, Vandervoort believes the rookie experience was vital for his development.
“I had a good group of receivers to learn from in Manny, Burnham, Nick Moore and Marco. It was a good group to come into,” Vandervoort explained.
“They all play the game differently so it was good to see what works for each person and kind of take that in for myself. It was a good learning experience and I hope to take that along with what I am doing this off-season in year two.”
Another layer of the motivation is the new brass, led by GM Ed Hervey, who will have a big say in certain decisions. The new regime also includes offensive coordinator Jarious Jackson and receivers coach/pass game coordinator Markus Howell. That consortium, in conjunction with head coach Wally Buono, will look to leave no stone unturned and not grant players currency simply based on what they have accomplished in the past.
“That’s definitely a big motivator this off-season, coming in with a new GM who hasn’t really seen me play or knows what I am capable of doing. I really want to impress him, hopefully, have a good training camp and stay healthy and show what I have and how I can contribute to the team,” Vandervoort said.
“They (Jackson and Howell) are great coaches. I am excited to work with him and have heard nothing but great things, and also want to show them what I am capable of. I think the second year me is going to be different than the first year me. Like I said, I should be a little faster and stronger. This offseason has done wonders and I think I am going to impress everyone in my second year.”
Winning and getting back into the Grey Cup discussion remains the ultimate goal.
“We know we are a better team than what we showed last season. Coming from me and my experience, in college we could lose a maximum of two games a year and high school it was the same. I am a really competitive person and I have losing more than I love winning. I am going to do everything I can to help the team get back into the winning bracket and into the playoffs.
Vandervoort can also take comfort knowing his family is always there for support. His mother Liane is perhaps his biggest booster on social media and the family travelled to several games in 2017, including every Lions’ odyssey to the East.
“My family has been huge for support. They haven’t missed a game since I started playing at age eight,” he said.
“It’s not easy now, playing on the furthest team away from them but they are staying up until 2 a.m. watching the games and always texting me after. They are huge supporters and I really wouldn’t be where I am without them.”
Kamloops should provide key battles in every area and receiver is certainly no exception. Having a guy like Owens show Vandervoort the ropes could very well have played a big factor.