Thursday, 11 October 2018

Morrow fills big shoes as Hilltops starting safety

Brant Morrow runs back a punt for the Hilltops.
    Brant Morrow focuses on being the best player he can be and adds the James Vause influence is there.
    In his sophomore Canadian Junior Football League campaign, Morrow stepped into the role of starting safety for the defensive unit of the Saskatoon Hilltops, who have won the last four straight league titles. The 19-year-old takes over a spot that was held by James Vause, who graduated from the Hilltops program after a distinguished four-year career.
    Vause was a Prairie Football Conference all-star last season, and during his career, he might have been the Hilltops best representative in the community. As a rookie last season, Morrow was impressed how well Vause interacted with people from all walks of life.
    “James, he is more than a good football player,” said Morrow, whose Hilltops close the regular season on Sunday taking on the Winnipeg Rifles at 1 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. “He is an awesome guy too the way he treats his teammates.
    “In the community, he always got out into the community. This year, I’ve tried to do that more. He treated everybody the same.
    “He treated everybody nicely and with respect. That is something you can take as a human being not only as a football player. I learned a lot more from him than just football.”
    On the field, Morrow has more than held his own. Appearing in six out of the Hilltops seven regular season games so far in the 2018 campaign, Morrow has recorded 17 total tackles, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
    The graduate of Saskatoon’s Bishop James Mahoney High School Saints football team has returned 23 punts for the second most yards in the PFC at 267.
    Morrow, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 150 pounds, said Vause left pretty big shoes to fill, but that he has to play to his strengths.
    “I have to listen to my coaches and get help from my teammates to be the best player I can be,” said Morrow. “I don’t necessarily need to compare to him.
    “It was good to watch him last year and see what he did to be successful and what I can use from his game to put into my game. It is nice to see somebody like that.”
Brant Morrow, left, has two interceptions this season.
    Morrow has enjoyed the fact he has been able to make some big plays for the Hilltops defence.
    “I has been pretty cool,” said Morrow. “This defence has been really successful this year, and to be a part of something special like that is always pretty cool.
    “I’m looking forward to hopefully contributing more for the rest of the season.”
    Originally, Morrow wasn’t slated to be the Hilltops starting safety this season. That job was being targeted for talented third-year veteran Leif Larson.
    Larson injured his knee in a Sunday night workout before the season started and has yet to dress in a game for the Hilltops in 2018. Morrow was the next man up, and he quickly showed he was ready for the challenge.
    “All of sudden Brant (Morrow) had to step up and become the player that he became,” said Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant. “We are real proud of him.
    “That is a credit to (defensive backs) coach (Brent) Turkington with his expertise putting in the time and energy to get that thing done right. Brant (Morrow) has applied a lot of the lessons. He has gotten better.
    “Now, we have a lot of confidence in him. Even his punt return game has certainly been a real nice treat for us to watch.”
    Sargeant had a feeling Morrow was going to adjust quickly to the starting assignment and make some plays.
    “He (Morrow) was a high end high school player, quality high school player,” said Sargeant. “He just has a great nose for the ball.
    “He has great instincts. It is just great to see him just trust and trust himself even more. As I said, I was able to watch him enough in high school to realize he has top flight playmaking ability, and he has proven that.”
    Coming out of high school, Morrow said he decided to join the Hilltops because two of his Saints coaches in Donnie Davidsen and Pat Schnitzler spoke highly of the team. Davidsen happens to be the Hilltops offensive line coach and Schnitzler’s son, Tom, wrapped up a stellar five-year career as a defensive end with the club last season.
Brant Morrow calls out adjustments on the Hilltops defence.
    The skilled safety found a high comfort level working with Turkington too.
    Morrow said joining the Hilltops was the best decision he had ever made in football.
    Things also became a little more special this season for Morrow when his 21-year-old brother, Kirk, joined the Hilltops as a defensive back. Kirk became part of the Hilltops after taking a break from the game that lasted about three seasons.
    “It has been pretty cool,” said Brant Morrow. “We haven’t played a sport together since we were in probably soccer when were about 10-years-old.
    “I think we have a pretty good bond. When we come to football, it is more serious about football now. It is awesome to have my brother here too.”
    With one game remaining to play in the regular season, Morrow said he is looking forward to participating in his second run through the CJFL playoffs.
    “For me, I was pretty excited last year, because I was still dressing for the games in playoffs,” said Morrow. “Now starting, I have a bigger role, so I have to prepare a little bit better and get a little more psyched up to make plays and contribute to the team.
    “In that aspect, it is going to be a little more exciting. We have mentally prepare as a team better and be more focused now.”
    Going into Sunday’s clash with the Rifles, the Hilltops already have first place locked up in the PFC with a 7-0 record and will have home-field advantage throughout the CJFL playoffs. The Rifles are 3-4 and are locked into finishing fourth in the PFC.
    That means the two sides will play each other in back-to-back weeks, because they are slated to face each other in a PFC semifinal matchup with a date and start time still to be announced.
    The Edmonton Huskies (5-2) can lock up second place in the PFC if they defeat the Edmonton Wildcats (2-5) on Sunday in Edmonton. If the Huskies lose, the Regina Thunder (4-3) would claim second place if they down the Colts (0-7) in Calgary on Sunday.
    The Wildcats and Colts have been eliminated from playoff contention locked into respective fifth and sixth place finishes in the PFC.
Brant Morrow (#22) celebrates a big play with David Solie (#2).
    Sargeant said his side plans to avoid overthinking things in their final regular season game.
    “We’re just going to come out and be who we are,” said Sargeant. “We’re just going to have a solid game plan, nothing fancy, and we’re just going to try continue to build on what we’re done for the first seven games.
    “There is a room for growth that we want to see. We’re going to continue to coach the way we coach and expect our players to play the way we play. We’re at home.
    “We always like to defend home turf, and we don’t want anyone coming in here and feeling comfortable. We’re going to come out and be physical and let them know Saskatoon is a place you don’t want to come play.”
    NOTE – The Hilltops will play tribute to late legendary team executive Don McDonald during halftime of Sunday’s game. McDonald, who is a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame as a builder, passed away at age 86 on Sept. 21.

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