Brayden Belton’s time is valuable. The mere seconds he’s on the football field for each play are extremely valuable to the Vancouver Island Raiders, who rely heavily on the precise contributions of the Chemainus Secondary School graduate.
Belton’s rookie campaign with the Raiders in the B.C. Football Conference of the Canadian Junior Football League has already been an interesting one and he’s helped the team to a 3-1 start after a convincing victory over the Kamloops Broncos on the weekend.
Belton, 18, is garnering a lot more attention in a league of 18-22-year-olds than he normally might because he’s the Raiders’ long snapper.
“That’s stressful, especially as a rookie,” he conceded.
Luckily, Belton has received some important training from within his family. His step-dad Kyle Cabott was also a snapping specialist during a brief career in the Canadian Football League so Belton got a chance to first start working on that part of the game when he was in Grade 9.
For the uninitiated, Belton’s role is to take the ball on the Raiders’ offensive line for special teams kicks and make sure it gets quickly and accurately to the punter or place-kicker for field goals. That takes only about 0.7 seconds for the ball to reach the punter 15 yards away and even less to the field goal kicker at seven yards away.
But then Belton has to prepare himself to block the other team’s defensive player lining up in front of him from getting through. It’s a constant exercise in quickness and agility.
“You can see the guys out of the peripheral vision,” explained Belton of the target behind him. “You make the snap and then I release right away.”
He might execute 14 or 15 of those plays a game.
“I try to go my 100 per cent best each time,” Belton indicated.
“It’s nice to be able to say I’m dressing. I always say if the opportunity comes, you’ve got to take advantage of the opportunity.”
Belton started playing football in Grade 7 in the Cowichan Valley Football Association’s Cowichan Bulldogs program. He was a member of both fall and spring teams until his eligibility for spring football ran out after junior bantam.
“My last two seasons were with the Victoria Spartans Association,” Belton added. “I was looking for better coaching at the time and seeing what was out there.”
The team placed second in the provincials during Belton’s first year of midget with the Spartans, but lost in the first round of the playoffs in his second season.
Belton was on both the offensive and defensive lines during his younger days of minor football, but concentrated on the defensive line and long snapper as he got older.
In Grade 11, Belton went to a tryout camp for the ABC Border Bowl, a program to identify top players from B.C. and Alberta. He made the team and also earned a selection in Grade 12 despite missing tryouts.
A month after the last main camp, the best players from B.C. got together for a game against Alberta and that took place in a snowstorm in Chilliwack last December.
The process of the Border Bowls steered Belton toward the Raiders, with input from Glenn Cook - now the team’s vice president and general manager - making a difference.
“That’s where I wanted to go because they showed the most interest in me,” explained Belton.
There was also some interest expressed later by Langley Rams defensive line and linebacker coach Jeff Alamolhoda, but Belton had already decided on the Raiders by then.
The tryouts for the Raiders involved a lot of players, but Belton’s specialty skills won him a spot in the end.
“My coach told me the best way to get on the roster as a rookie is to make special teams,” explained Belton.
And that’s precisely what happened.
The Raiders are under the direction of former B.C. Lion and Winnipeg Blue Bomber Doug Hocking and Belton is lapping up all he can from the head coach, with an eye toward the future. He’s currently taking two years off from school, but plans to apply to Coast Guard College in Nova Scotia in November.
There’s always a chance his football prowess will lead to something else in the years ahead and a change in plans.
“If I get a scholarship somewhere for football, I’ll be taking business and marketing,” he anticipated.