Sunday, 5 August 2018

Hilltops’ Walls a perfect fit for #1 CJFL ranking

Hilltops QB Jordan Walls topped the CJFL’s top 50 player rankings.
    Jordan Walls showed last season he was ready to lead the Saskatoon Hilltops, and now he is regarded as the best in the Canadian Junior Football League.
    On Friday, the CJFL ranked its top 50 players heading into the 2018 season, and Walls, who is the Hilltops 22-year-old starting quarterback, topped the list. The top 50 promotion was first run by the league in 2016 as a vehicle to shine more of a spotlight on its players.
    Walls deserves the top ranking after guiding the Hilltops to a record fourth straight CJFL title win. Topping the CJFL top 50 list is also a nod for all the hard work he has put in during his previous four seasons in the league.
Jordan Walls, right, runs for a game clinching first down against the Rifles.
    As is the custom with the Hilltops, Walls wasn’t the starting quarterback coming out of high school in 2014. That job fell to Jared Andreychuk, who was in his third year of eligibility at the time.
    From 2014 to 2016, Andreychuk built a legacy quarterbacking the Hilltops to three straight CJFL title posting a 9-0 career record as a post-season starter. Walls was the understudy over the span being groomed to become Andreychuk’s successor.
    Walls, who stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 180 pounds, has always been a great student of the game. During training camp in 2016, he was showing at that time he was ready to become the Hilltops starter.
    Had Andreychuk gone down due to a season ending injury in that campaign, Walls could have stepped in, and the Hilltops wouldn’t have missed a beat.
    Andreychuk wrote a terrific swan song in 2016 guiding the Hilltops to a 37-25 victory in the Canadian Bowl to claim a 19th CJFL title against the Westshore Rebels in Langford, B.C.
Hilltops QB Jordan Walls dives in for a touchdown against the Thunder.
    Walls finally gained his chance to guide the Hilltops as their starting quarterback last season, and he played with a lot of poise and polish.
    During the team’s eight regular season games, Walls completed 124-of-202 passes for 1,870 yards, 16 touchdowns and two interceptions. He quarterbacked the Hilltops to an 11-1 overall record and an impressive 56-11 victory in the Canadian Bowl over the host AKO Fratmen in Windsor, Ont.
    Walls completed 11-of-18 passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns picking up offensive player of the game honours helping the Hilltops win their fourth straight CJFL title, their seven league crown in the last eight years and 20th national title in team history.
Hilltops QB Jordan Walls (#19) was efficient firing the ball downfield.
    The graduate of Saskatoon’s Tommy Douglas Collegiate could make the big plays when the Hilltops needed them the most. Inside of the final 45 seconds of a PFC semifinal clash last year, the Hilltops held a 28-21 lead on the visiting Winnipeg Rifles at Saskatoon Minor Football field and faced a second and long situation.
    The Hilltops had an OK outing in that contest, while the underdog Rifles came out playing on fire looking for an upset. Walls faked a handoff to running back Adam Machart and bootlegged wide to the left side of the field, gained the necessary yardage for a first down and went down in bounds to ensure the clock didn’t stop.
    With the Rifles depleted of timeouts, the Hilltops kneeled down on the ball twice to win the game.
Hilltops QB Jordan Walls (#19) celebrates a TD from Garth Knittig.
    Even when the signals get crossed up, Walls still ensured a play had success. That was best shown in the PFC final where defensive tackle Garth Knittig scored the game-sealing touchdown on a one-yard dive with 96 seconds to play in the fourth quarter to give the Hilltops a 36-24 victory over the archrival Regina Thunder at SMF Field.
    The correct play call came into Walls, but the short yardage personnel grouping actually got missed up as Knittig wasn’t supposed to get the ball.
    With Knittig being a tough, hard-working and jovial defensive lineman, Walls called that play naturally where everyone thought, “Who wouldn’t like to see the big guy score. Let’s get him in there.”
    Besides playing for the Hilltops, Walls is the offensive coordinator for the powerhouse Saskatoon Valkyries of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League. The knowledge, observations and experience he has gained in the game are an extra big bonus help for Hilltops legendary head coach Tom Sargeant, who doubled as the club’s offensive coordinator last season.
The Hilltops offence is in good hands with Jordan Walls (#19) at the controls.
    The Hilltops flooded the CJFL top 50 with five additional entries. They included fifth-year linebacker Cody Peters at the seventh spot, fifth-year receiver Jason Price at the 21st spot, third-year defensive back Colton Holmes at the 27th spot, third-year running back Joshua Ewanchyna at the 31st spot and fifth-year offensive lineman Kirk Simonsen at the 45th spot.
    The Hilltops open training camp on Monday and hold their annual Alumni Game on Thursday at 7 p.m. at SMF Field. They open the regular season on Aug. 18, when they travel to Regina to face the Thunder at 7 p.m. at Mosaic Stadium.
    As the Hilltops begin their quest to win an unprecedented fifth straight CJFL championship, their offensive is in great hands with Walls calling the signals.

Rush’s Keenan captures fourth NLL coach of the year award

Derek Keenan is the NLL’s coach of the year.
    Saskatchewan Rush head coach and general manager Derek Keenan continues to add to his collection of accolades.
    On Thursday, Keenan was named the winner of the National Lacrosse League’s Les Bartley Head Coach of the Year Award. This marks the fourth time Keenan has been named the NLL’s coach of the year.
    The 56-year-old product of Oshawa, Ont., won the coach of the year and NLL general manager of the year awards in 2010 and 2014, when the Rush franchise was located in Edmonton. Keenan won both of those honours in 2006, when he was with the now defunct Portland LumberJax.
    This past season, Keenan guided the Rush to a first overall finish in the NLL regular season with a 14-4 record. The finish gave the Rush a bye into the West Division final, where they down their archrivals the Calgary Roughnecks 15-13.
    The Rush had to go the distance to claim the best-of-three NLL championship series downing the Rochester Knighthawks 15-10 in Game 3 before 13,645 spectators at the SaskTel Centre on June 9 to capture the National Lacrosse League Cup.
    Under Keenan’s watch, the Rush have won three of the last four NLL titles. The Rush claimed their first NLL title in 2015, when they played out their final season in Edmonton. They repeated as NLL champions in 2016, which was their first campaign in Saskatchewan.
Rush HC and GM Derek Keenan, centre, studies play from the bench.
    The Rush’s championship this past season marked the ninth time Keenan has been part of an NLL championship team either as a player, coach or general manager. The Rush’s championship run marked a record 13th time Keenan has been to the NLL championship either as a player, coach and general manager.
    The NLL’s coach of the year award is named in honour of the late Les Bartley, who was a legendary head coach and general manager of the Toronto Rock. Keenan played under Bartley as a member of the Buffalo Bandits, when they won NLL titles in 1992 and 1993. Bartley was the head coach of those Bandits teams.
    Keenan was a player and an assistant coach under Bartley, when the Rock won an NLL title in 1999, and an assistant coach in the Rock’s NLL title wins in 2000, 2002 and 2003
    Keenan joined the Rush franchise as head coach and general manager in June of 2009.

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