Of Beavers & Bombers

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:59 AM ET

They are the Oregon State Three, a trio of former Beavers hoping to become long-term Bombers.

And while most American players who come to Winnipeg for the first time wouldn't even know what a Blue Bomber is, these three are different.

You see, before they even set foot north of the 49th, they were schooled on Winnipeg football by their college coach, Mike Riley, the man who led the Bombers to Grey Cup titles in 1988 and 1990.

"He told me so many CFL stories," rookie running back Yvenson Bernard was saying yesterday. "There's so many, I don't even know where to start. He loves it here."

Bernard and fellow rookie defensive lineman Dorian Smith are trying to join holdover kicker Alexis Serna as Riley proteges on the current Bomber roster.

Admittedly, they're in as tough as anybody in this training camp, Bernard behind Fred Reid and Joe Smith in the backfield, Dorian Smith looking at veterans like Doug Brown, Tyrone Williams and Gavin Walls ahead of him.

But if they have an edge on other CFL neophytes, it's this: the version of Bomber football preached by Riley sounds a lot like the one Kelly's trying to resurrect.

Take the way Riley reacted down at Oregon State when he learned Smith was heading for Winnipeg.

"He brought out a huge history book of the Blue Bombers, and just had me keep going through it," Smith recalled.

"He told me about the history and tradition they had of winning. Of being such a tough, hard-nosed team. Nobody wanted to come in and play in this cold weather and get beat up."

Sound familiar?

It's what Kelly's been saying from Day 1.

"He wants this to be a team that's feared," Serna said.

There are other themes shared by the former Bomber boss and the current one.

"What coach Kelly is trying to bring here, we've experienced that at Oregon State with coach Riley, just the closeness of the team and fans rallying around it," Serna said. "It'd be exciting to have that here, and winning games."

Kelly talks about involving the fans as much as possible. He's brought in former players to address the current ones about what it should mean to be a Bomber.

Serna says the inspirational messages really hit home.

"They said there was a spark in the city when they were playing," Serna said. "They said the spark is gone and they want to bring it back. They're excited coach Kelly is back because they think he can bring it back. I'm excited to be here. Just to be around that."

A college atmosphere, if you will.

One Riley created back in the '80s, and continues to gush about today.

"The way he said it, he made it sound similar to Oregon State," Smith said. "A really great community that loves the team. And if you treat them right, they'll treat you right."

Kelly and Riley don't really know each other.

But for some reason, probably just because of the first names, fans sometimes confuse the two. Kelly says he gets letters addressed to Mike Riley.

"For whatever reason, I've been compared to Mike by people that know both of us a lot," Kelly said. "There is a certain mindset that we're trying to get here. When I talk about teams that emulate the '80s, obviously Mike Riley had a lot to do with that.

"We're always connected, one way or another."

They are now, anyway.

One funneling players to his old stomping grounds, the other trying to turn them into this town's next football heroes.

One with a sizable legacy in blue and gold, the other about to write his own chapter in that team history book.

Of Beavers and Bombers. It would make for a neat chapter.

But only if they're winners.


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