Laberge can throw on the run, but is transitioning to more of a pocket quarterback. Gary Ahuja/Black Press

Laberge can throw on the run, but is transitioning to more of a pocket quarterback. Gary Ahuja/Black Press

Laberge set for big year in BCFC

QB from Maple Ridge starting for Vancouver Island Raiders

A former Ridge Meadows Knights quarterback had a homecoming last Saturday.

Maple Ridge’s Jake Laberge first played football with the local entry into the Valley Community Football League from the age of six, then started high school ball with the Terry Fox Ravens of Port Coquitlam as a Grade 10.

So there were a lot of friends and family who came to see him guide the Victoria Island Raiders to a 20-13 win over the Langley Rams on July 29 at McLeod Athletic Park.

It was a solid effort for the sophomore QB, with 224 yards on 14-for-27 passing, with a touchdown and a pick. He also had a nice scamper for a first down that covered 18 yards.

“I was pretty happy,” he said of that first outing. “I missed a couple of throws, and I can always improve.”

Online video highlights of Laberge’s career generally show him scrambling, throwing on the run, and connecting with receivers way downfield.

“I’ve been doing that since I was young,” he said.

That’s not the guy he wants to be this season, under centre in junior football.

“This year, our offensive line has stepped up huge,” he said, and that means he should be able to stay in the pocket and find an open receiver.

Last season he put up 1,961 passing yards, hitting on 129 of 233 passes. He also threw for 11 touchdowns and was picked off nine times. He had a game high 323 yards.

He also ran the ball well, covering 306 yards on 52 attempts, for an average of 5.9 yards per carry. He also found the end zone three times.

It was a great rookie campaign, and impressed his head coach Doug Hocking.

“He’s an outstanding football player and a good kid,” he said.

He’s got a great instinct for when to take off, but last year, Laberge used his legs more than he needed to, said Hocking.

“He’s got an outstanding deep ball, and he can throw with touch,” he said. “This year he’s standing tall in the pocket and making his reads.”

If the offensive line keeps him on his feet, and if Laberge stays healthy, he should have a great year, the coach predicts.

Hocking had a good competition at the pivot position in camp, bringing back 22-year-old veteran Jamie Ybarra to push for the spot. Both are athletic and can throw the ball, and Ybarra had a great composure that comes with experience.

“Jake and Jamie had a great competition going,” said Hocking. “They get along great.”

But Ybarra collapsed on the practice field late in the pre-season, and was found to have a blood clot in his lung. He has been sidelined indefinitely.

“We’re blessed and thankful that we caught it,” said Hocking.

Laberge has had a lot of great coaches over the years, and lists his father Dave, who was his Knights coach, as one of his important mentors. He still travels to see his son play.

“He has helped me out a lot with the stuff I do well and the stuff I need to improve on,” he said.

He had a good experience at high school, as the Ravens made it to the provincial semi-finals in both his Grade 11 and 12 seasons. As a Grade 10, he made Team BC and won gold at the nationals in Winnipeg.

Now he’s making big development strides, as a starter in the BCFC, where there are bigger, faster and stronger players.

“Guys fly around out here. You’re playing against men.”

He loves the challenge, and he loves the Island community’s passion for football. Opposing teams know they are in for a battle whey go to Caledonia Park in Nanaimo.

“All teams hate going there. It always seems to be pretty packed and pretty loud.”

The quarterbacks he most enjoys watching are Aaron Rogers of the Green Bay Packers in the NFL, and in the CFL – the game he is playing with Naniamo – he says Travis Lulay is “unreal.”

“They command the offence and take control. They put the ball in the spots it needs to be, and find a way to win.”

If Laberge is to become the next Lulay, he will likely have to go through the Canadian university system first. Hocking believes he will get hat opportunity after developing in the BCFC.

“He absolutely has a chance to play at the next level,” said the coach. “He takes charge in the huddle, makes all the throws, and he’s a smart QB.

“I absolutely think he could excel at that level.”

Laberge wants to put up the kind of season that gets the attention of university coaches.

“I want to play in the CFL – to take this as far as I can.”