Championships may be harder to come by these years, but the Okanagan Sun are still succeeding in developing quality football players and furthering their careers.
Every off-season, the Sun send several alums to the next level - be it CIS or NCAA junior college programs - but this year has been especially rewarding with a trio recently earning CFL contracts from the B.C. Lions.
On Nov. 29, the Lions announced the signings of defensive lineman Steven Doege, receiver Bobby Davis and kicker Steve Shott - all of whom have history in B.C.'s organization.
"You go through the year that we had on the field and it's easy to focus on the negative things, but really what we're here for is to see players go on and maybe make a profession out of this," Sun general manager Jay Christensen said. "To have three guys in one year all have that opportunity for next year is a huge accomplishment for this football program."
Doege, who still has one season of junior eligibility left, and Davis, who graduated this year, were on the Lions' practice roster in 2012 while still playing for the Sun on weekends. Doege cracked the practice squad out of training camp in June, while Davis made the jump mid-season after a successful transition to slotback with the Sun.
Shott, who also graduated but missed most of the past two seasons with a back injury, had previously auditioned at B.C. training camps and, if healthy, likely would have been in a practice role by now as well.
Christensen noted that while the Lions retained territorial rights to Doege regardless, they only had until Feb. 15 to ink Davis and Shott.
"If they hadn't signed them by then, potentially they could have gone anywhere," Christensen explained. "I think the Lions just wanted to let those two guys know that 'hey, we want you and don't think about anywhere else.'
"This is going to be a huge motivating factor for them. They are both workout guys that take care of their bodies and train hard, but it just adds that extra little bit of motivation."
Davis, a former quarterback and defensive back, recorded 32 receptions for 523 yards and three touchdowns after settling into his new position with the Sun.
Doege, meanwhile, enjoyed another CJFL all-star campaign for Okanagan, notching 34 tackles and 12 sacks.
Shott will join them at the Lions' 2013 training camp next June, though he and Davis are facing a different situation than Doege.
"Their options will either be they make the roster and it's a no-brainer," Christensen said, "or if it is a practice roster thing for the first little while, then the Lions will make them an offer and say 'here's what we're willing to pay you' and the guys decide whether it's in their best interest to stay down there and keep working at it or not."
Doege could find himself in the same boat as this season, by continuing to suit up for the Sun while practising with the Lions in Vancouver during the week.
"They've now had a full year of seeing him practice with them and were very, very impressed," Christensen said. "A lot of what his situation is going to come down to is the draft, and whether they pick up any free agents, or with the import ratio where they need to play Canadians, all those things are factors.
"For a young guy like Steven, I think there's no doubt that he's going to be playing professional football at some point. He obviously wants it the sooner, the better, but this is the Lions' timeframe."
Until the Lions activate Doege, he'll keep paying his dues and perhaps keep falling victim to politics. Andrew Harris, the Lions' star running back, was in a similar predicament a couple years back while dominating the BCFC with the Vancouver Island Raiders.
"It's almost like having an ace in the hole with him still being activated as a junior," Christensen said of Doege. "I've had discussions with Steven and his mindset is that he's going to make the Lions next year, and he's going to do everything possible to make it impossible for them to keep him off the roster.
"As much as we'd love to have him back next year, we're going to do everything we can to have him play for the Lions. So the way we attack it as a team is we're preparing for him not to be back and if it ends up happening the same way it did this year, then it's a bonus."
Christensen, who spent a decade playing in the CFL as a receiver, can relate to this process and pass along invaluable advice to these up-and-comers. For Doege, in particular, he said it's important to maintain a glass half-full outlook.
"I have had discussions with all three of them in regards to just little things that they can expect," Christensen said. "Lots of things have changed . . . but you look at a guy like Steven who is frustrated that he's not yet been activated for the Lions. I try to talk to him and let him know that it's going to happen, but that unfortunately because of the business part, he's more valuable in the role that he was in than if he had been activated.
"It's a quality guy that they have rights to that they don't have to give up. If they had activated him for a game and then taken him off the roster, that would have put them at risk (of losing Doege to another CFL team). By them not doing that, that's telling Steven that he's more valuable than he feels sometimes. If they didn't have plans for him, there were times this year where they probably would have activated him and then if he got picked up by somebody else, who cares. But by not doing that, just reading between the lines, I think they have some pretty big plans for him."