Friday, 19 October 2018

Kleiter refines identity with Hilltops, stands out in curling

Rylan Kleiter dashes home on a 50-yard touchdown reception.
    Rylan Kleiter knew he would go through a feeling out process playing for the Saskatoon Hilltops in 2018.
    Last season as a 19-year-old sophomore, Kleiter started the campaign handling all the Hilltops punting and kickoff duties and had a regular role as a receiver. His campaign came to an almost literal crashing halt after he suffered a major knee injury in a 29-26 loss to the Regina Thunder on Sept. 9, 2017 at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.
    After missing four regular season games and three playoff contests, Kleiter managed to heal up enough to play in the Canadian Junior Football League championship game – the Canadian Bowl – on Nov. 11, 2017. He hit a 37-yard field goal in the Hilltops 56-11 thrashing of the host Windsor AKO Fratmen as the venerable Saskatoon side won a fourth straight CJFL title.
    Entering this season, Kleiter was still bothered by some lingering effects from his knee injury causing him to miss the Hilltops first three regular season games.
    “It has been a long journey, and a lot of hard work just in the gym making sure my strength is back up and keeping that knee strong and also mentally getting comfortable with using my knee again,” said Kleiter. “I was itching to get back out there.
    “As soon as the football equipment came out, I was ready to go on and get back out there.”
    He returned to action on Sept. 15, when the Hilltops romped over the Colts in Calgary 79-7. In his return, Kleiter caught three passes for 46 yards, returned two punts for 25 yards and kicked four punts for a 35.2 yard average.
    The 20-year-old was ecstatic to be on the field.
    “It was pretty exciting,” said Kleiter, whose Hilltops (8-0) host a Prairie Football Conference semifinal playoff contest against the Winnipeg Rifles (3-5) on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. “At first, it was a little edgy kind of.
    “I wanted to get into the hitting. Once I got that first hit, then I was ready to go.”
Rylan Kleiter boots a punt downfield for the Hilltops.
    While Kleiter was ready to go, he wasn’t sure what his identity would be with the team. Due to the fact he missed a total of 10 regular season and post-season games due to injury over the past two years, receiver John Brown emerged to cement himself as the Hilltops main punter.
    David Solie, who has been kicker for Football Canada’s national team program, joined the Hilltops this season and assumed the kickoff duties Kleiter used to handle. The Toppers also cycled through a number of receivers on offence, so Kleiter wasn’t sure what his role would be there.
    He was determined to get on the field and was open to pursuing every avenue to make that possible, which included playing multiple positions.
    “It took some time,” said Kleiter, who stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 165 pounds. “I’m still just practising making sure I am ready to go if coach ever needs me to fill in.
    “Other than that, I just kind of keep on grinding to get back in there.”
    Last Sunday in the Hilltops 48-7 regular season ending victory over the Rifles at SFM Field, Kleiter had arguably his most memorable game of the season. The graduate of Saskatoon’s St. Joseph High School Guardians football team hauled in a 50-yard catch and run touchdown reception from star quarterback Jordan Walls, ran back two punts for 21 yards and punted the ball four times for a 32.5 yard average.
    The touchdown catch was the obvious highlight of the day.
    “It was pretty exciting,” said Kleiter. “I got the blocks up front with my receivers, which left a wide open lane for me.”
    Away from football, Kleiter has built another big identity as a star curler. He skips a junior team out of Saskatoon’s Sutherland Curling Club that includes third, Trevor Johnson, second Joshua Mattern and lead Matthieu Taillon.
Rylan Kleiter, left, returns a punt for the Hilltops.
    Together, Kleiter’s team has won the last two Saskatchewan junior men’s provincial curling championships.
    “It has been busy between curling, football and school,” said Kleiter, who is a business student at the University of Saskatchewan. “My first few months are real busy.
    “Curling kind of sits to the back the first few months and then picks up later on after football season is over.”
    Last weekend, Kleiter’s foursome played in the Saskatchewan Curling Tour’s men’s bonspiel at Saskatoon’s Nutana Curling Club. This weekend, they are playing in the Curl Saskatoon Junior Classic, which started Friday and runs through to Sunday at the Granite and CN Curling Clubs in Saskatoon.
    Kleiter loves the busy weekends when he plays with his curling team in bonspiels and with the Hilltops in football.
    “It is fun,” said Kleiter. “I’m not usually at home very much.
    “I just take whatever down time I can get, rest up and be ready mentally as well.”
    Of course, football and curling are quite different, but he said the two sports complement each other when it comes to building mental toughness.
    “I’d say for sure mentally both ways,” said Kleiter. “Out here on the field when you are not making plays, you have to be able to get yourself out of that groove.
    “Both sports kind of combine with that to help me learn how to face that.”
Rylan Kleiter is set to make more good memories in the playoffs.
    On the football field, Kleiter is pumped the CJFL playoffs have rolled around. As a rookie in 2016, Kleiter had a huge highlight moment with the Hilltops catching two touchdown passes in the team’s 43-31 victory over the Colts in the PFC final played at SFM Field.
    He wants to help create some more memorable moments in this year’s playoff run and noticed things have hit a higher gear at the team’s practices this week.
    “It is pretty exciting,” said Kleiter. “I am just excited to get out there.
    “It is a little bit different feel even at practice. It is a little more higher tempo and just be ready to go.”
    NOTES – Hilltops playoff game tickets can be purchased at all Mac’s and Circle K convenience stores in Saskatoon and the team’s web site at Sunday’s other PFC semifinal sees the Regina Thunder (5-3) travel to Edmonton to face the Huskies (6-2).

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