By: Mike Still (@mikestill94)
Feature photo: Brandon Poulin evades an Okanagan Sun defender during BCFC play. Photo by Kim Douglas.
The Valley Huskers have made a huge statement in the British Columbia Football Conference (BCFC) thus far in 2018. They’re currently tied for first place at 4-1, with one of their victories coming over perennial powerhouse Okanagan – the first in the history of the Huskers program, minus a forfeit in 2013 due to an ineligible player. One of many reasons for their success has been the emergence of first-year player and former Manitoba Bison Brandon Poulin.
The receiver is currently in the top two in the conference in receptions as well as receiving yards, alongside Bison alumnus Anthony Dyck. His season highlights include tying a BCFC record for receptions in a game, with 14 against the vaunted Okanagan Sun defence in week three.
Looking at Poulin’s background however, it’s no surprise that the speedy athlete has had such a tremendous year thus far for a Valley team that has experienced a resurgence under second-year head coach Bob Reist.
Football has been passionately entrenched in the Winnipeg native’s heart for his entire life. The love for the game started at age seven when he would watch his older brother and mentor practice and play for Winnipeg’s Grant Park High School.
“It was just me and my brother, there was no father growing up, so we just had to provide for ourselves,” Poulin says.
The receiver started his own football journey at age 10, suiting up for the Crescentwood Grizzlies community club. His incentive was always to put on for his mother, who suffered a stroke and almost died when he was still a kid.
“I wanted to play football and go far for her. She was always that motivation,” Poulin says.
“At the weakest time of her life, she would always be happy hearing that I scored four, five or six touchdowns a game. It made her smile. She was so scared to see me play, because I was four-foot nothing and sixty pounds at 10 years old, but I was the fastest kid on the field at all times.”
As Poulin got older, he knew he wanted to play for the same school that his brother did. He had developed a relationship with long-time head coach Mike Kennedy as well as speed coach Glenn Bruce over the years and didn’t want to lose that guidance and support. But due to living in a new house essentially every six months, that desire became a significant challenge, as he was closer to other school’s jurisdictions such as Sisler and Tec Voc.
Poulin eventually ended up at Grant Park though, which was for the best.
“I credit a lot to Grant Park,” he says. Mr. Bruce and Kennedy helped keep me on the right path as they did with [current Blue Bomber/Grant Park/Oak Park alumnus] Andrew Harris.”
Poulin was an immediate playmaker from grades 10-12 for the Pirates, suiting up as a receiver, defensive back and returner. While he was typically one of the smallest players on the field, his game-breaking speed made him a challenge for any player to prepare for. He was also a valuable leader and captain in his senior year.
“I never came off the field. I was basically a robot out there,” he says.
“I had to call everything and make sure everyone knew everything, because we had only a 30- man squad. That leadership role was just instilled in me at a young age, always having to take ownership for myself.”
After high school, Poulin started training with Recruit Ready, a premier skill and development program in Winnipeg. That’s where he caught the eye of Bison football head coach Brian Dobie, who invited him to the team’s spring camp in 2015.
Poulin impressed and was able to secure the final roster spot with Manitoba for the upcoming season, despite being heavily undersized compared to the rest of the prospects on the field at just fix-foot-eight and 119 pounds.
Poulin would spend the next three years on the Bisons roster, dressing for the first time in week three of the 2016 season against Alberta. He also recorded a 23-yard reception in the contest.
“I was just blessed for the opportunity,” he says emphatically.
But at the end of the 2017 season, Poulin had a decision to make. He was struggling financially and needed to figure out if he wanted to stay in school. There were a few teams in the BCFC that were interested in his services, however he ended up choosing the Huskers.
Poulin’s decision was due in part to the fact that a few of his Bison teammates such as Dyck, as well as fellow receiver Remis Tshiovo, quarterback Julian Wytinck and long-snapper Zach Esau had all also decided to head to Valley to play for Reist, a former Vanier Cup winner with Manitoba in 2007.
The decision has paid off thus far, as Wytinck has developed tremendous chemistry with his Bison and now Valley teammates. Poulin specifically, has embraced his role in the dynamic Huskers offence.
“I like getting the ball in my hands. I like being that guy that people lean on,” he says.
It’s a good feeling to have someone either look you in the eye or shake your hand and actually know that they trust you or that you have their back. That’s what I love about football. It’s that family aspect that I never really had growing up. When I play football, I feel like I have that and I have something to look forward to and people to protect. It’s like my duty.”