2022 preview: Hilltops plot returns to past CJFL glory

“We are blessed to be the program that we are where the norm is the norm and that is to go out there and win our league, the PFC, and win a Canadian championship.”

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The Saskatoon Hilltops are ready to move their football game from paper to grass this weekend.

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The Hilltops will open the 2022 Prairie Football Conference season of the Canadian Junior Football League on Sunday afternoon at home against the Winnipeg Rifles. Game time is 1 p.m. at the SMF Field at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.

The Toppers will quickly see where they stand as they begin their quest for another Canadian Bowl title after arriving in 2021.

“Here we go,” said longtime Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant.

” We talked a lot. We have the right guys in the right places and now hopefully they come out and execute the game plan the coaches came up with. If they do, we know we are going in the right direction. Otherwise, we will have to re-evaluate and move on to the next step.

After winning six straight from 2014 to 2019, Saskatoon saw its streak come to an end last year in the 2021 national semi-final against the Langley, B.C. Rams after a 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID pandemic.

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So, for the first time since 2013, the Hilltops enter the season without the advantage and pride of being the defending Canadian Bowl champions.

Even so, the Hilltops are far more optimistic than they were a year ago when they faced a rare rebuilding year.

“I think so,” agreed Sargeant. “I guess we’re blessed to be the program that we are where the norm is the norm and that’s to go out there and win our league, the PFC, and win a Canadian championship.

Here’s a look at the 2022 Hilltops, broken down by position:

STRATEGIST

Damon Dutton takes on the undisputed No. 1 quarterback duties with Trey Reider and Brexton Elias as backups.

Dutton, a fifth-year senior and team captain, took the starting job midway through last season.

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“Certainly the great thing about Damon is that he has pocket presence and he’s put on 10-15 pounds over the winter,” Sargeant noted. “He’s captain now and he’s taking the lead. Last year he was close to a 68% passer, so he’s a very accurate pitcher and he’s got a good group to go to. We are happy for him. It’s his time. »

Reider will have opportunities in some packages. “Trey is the future,” Sargeant said. “He’s a promising player with a lot of talent.”

RECEIVERS

It’s a veteran-laden group with the likes of Dillan Heintz, Matt Turple, Lachlan Horsley, Presley Peterson and runner-up Boden Marley leading the way.

Sargeant has high expectations for the group.

Heintz and Turple are team captains.

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“They bring toughness, an ability to play,” Sargeant said. “They are definitely going to be featured.”

Marley is a bit of an X-factor. He’s a dynamic receiver who gives the Hilltops some flexibility in their offensive plans.

COME BACK

It’s a solid group, with Carter Mclean and Boston Davidsen back in the fold with promising rookie Charles Sawi.

“Between Boston and Carter last year, they rushed for over 1,000 yards, so both are going to play — they do a lot of things extremely well,” Sargeant said.

“Charles, from Holy Cross, is a dynamic and explosive runner who will help us in the special teams and he will also adapt to a few attacking sets. We are certainly looking forward to what happens with our running backs. We consider our qualified positions to be extremely athletic.

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Torrell Brightley, Tanner Szakacs and Colton Zimmer add plenty of depth.

OFFENSIVE LINE

While the Toppers graduated Ochs and Jonathan Chisholm, they returned four fifth-year players to the offensive line.

They include captain Ethan Paslowski, tackle Jayson Kehler, center Luciano Joly and guard Jordan Bisson.

“When you look at this group, it’s a physical offensive line, a big offensive line,” Sargeant said. “We love running the game and we can’t wait to get behind these great run blockers.”

Viktor Bikulo rounds out the starting lineup at right tackle.

“Proud of how hard Viktor worked in the offseason, a second-year player,” Sargeant said. “He’s definitely a lot bigger and stronger.”

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DEFENSIVE LINE

Anchored by Jaxon Funk, the Hilltops feature a formidable D line.

Dylan McNutt, Daylen Hartz and Riece Kack round out the starters with Ben Marce, Craig Torgeson, Josh Dunham and Jonathan Stevens as backups.

“We’ll be traveling with eight D-line players,” Sargeant noted. “How often do you say that? It’s just that Coach (Dave) Fisher has established a great group of athletes here.

Funk, McNutt and Hartz will all graduate after this season.

“It’s just a great group. We’re going to rotate them and get them all in there because they all have different skillsets and they all complement the defensive end extremely well,” Sargeant noted.

LINEBACKER

The group is led by PFC star and captain Konnor Johnson, who is expected to dominate on the weak side.

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He’s joined by center linebacker (MAC) Matt Wist, “a real MAC and a great stopper,” and strongside linebacker (SAM) Wade Keating, “who breaks such a competitive instinct.”

Jordan Levesque, Noah Gedir and Andy Scrivens add depth as substitutes.

“Our front seven, we’re extremely confident,” Sargeant said. “It’s going to be tough racing against them.”

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Evan Mantyka, a fifth-year senior and captain, will patrol the backfield from the safe position. He is expected to provide physical presence and a very high football IQ.

Steve Gilewicz is the Hilltops’ corner stopper, while Sargeant also expects big things from cornerback Joe Yausie.

Inside, Carter Wingert and Dylan Cook will provide “a bit of strength and physicality” at halfback.

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KICK GAME

Newcomer Connor Green arrives to kick, punt and kick off.

“He came here and turned off the lights of football,” Sargeant noted, adding that Green’s ability to do all three kicking positions is “sort of the trifecta.”

Place-kicker Teijon Abel-Douglas is also returning after being thrown into the spotlight as a rookie.

Special teams were a concern, and Sargeant believes they now have the answer.

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