Friday, 23 November 2018

Hilltops’ family feeling continues to live on, key in “drive for five”

Josh Ewanchyna and Garth Knittig share a funny moment.
    The Saskatoon Hilltops have a real family feeling, and it powered them to complete the “drive for five.”
    Most elite sports teams shoot to have a family feeling, and very few reach what the “Hilltop family” has. The family feeling the Hilltops have is one that has been built since the modern day version of the club formed in 1947.
    As soon as new players become part of the venerable Canadian Junior Football League team, the Hilltops family feeling quickly becomes part of who you are. You quickly begin to genuinely care about everyone who is part of the organization.
    Everyone from the alums, players, coaches, training staff, directors, volunteers and the cheerleading team all see each other as family.
    That family feeling was one of the reasons the Hilltops had an incredible 2018 campaign that resulted in an unprecedented fifth straight CJFL title.
    The Hilltops capped their “drive for five” going 11-0 to complete the fourth perfect season in team history and first since 2003.
The Hilltops fifth-years get set to accept the Canadian Bowl.
    Saskatoon concluded the 2018 season with an impressive 58-21 victory over the Langley Rams in the CJFL title game – the Canadian Bowl – held last Saturday at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.
    Between the regular season and playoffs, the Hilltops trailed on the scoreboard for a combined 81 seconds.
    In posting an 8-0 regular season, the Hilltops outscored their opponents 402-70. Looking at all 11 games they played, the Hilltops closest margin of victory came in the PFC final, when they downed the Edmonton Huskies 28-9.
Hilltops QB Jordan Walls (#19) calls signals in short yardage.
    Everyone involved with the Hilltops knows how to keep each other accountable, and criticisms are always taken constructively. Everyone in this family wants to see each other get better and improve.
    When you see members with the Hilltops interact with each other, the ease and the high comfort level with those interactions are amazing. It creates some humourous looking moments too like when star defensive tackle Garth Knittig sat on lap of Josh Ewanchyna, who is the team’s star running back, and shared a laugh in the final minutes of a 58-5 victory over the Winnipeg Rifles in a Prairie Football Conference semifinal contest at SFM Field.
LB Cody Peters backpedals into pass coverage.
    The collection of people involved with the Hilltops come from all sorts of backgrounds, and being part of the “blue and gold” unites them.
    In 2018, the family feeling within the squad hit new heights like the impressive performance of the team on the field. There were very few valleys in this campaign.
    Hilltops legendary head coach Tom Sargeant and his staff deserve boatloads of credit for what took place.
    With that said, the family feeling was really set by the group of players Sargeant dubbed “The Great Eight,” who happened to be the eight members of the club who were in their fifth and final years of CJFL eligibility.
    Sargeant always says the goal of the Hilltops each season is to play for the fifth-years and help them graduate from the CJFL as league champions. It was pretty easy to get motivated to play for the fifth-year group in 2018.
    Quarterback Jordan Walls, receiver Jason Price, right tackle Kirk Simonsen, receiver Adam Ewanchyna, defensive end Connor Guillet and linebackers Cody Peters, Bobby Ehman and Adam Benkic are all gems.
Hilltops receiver Adam Ewanchyna goes up and over a Rams tackler.
    Besides being great players and great sportsmen on the field, all are outstanding persons away from the game. Wherever they go, the atmosphere in any play they enter becomes more positive.
    At the team’s annual awards banquet held on Thursday at the Radisson Hotel, the fifth years were appropriately honoured and that included winning six of the possible seven team awards they could take.
    Walls, who is the club’s star quarterback, claimed the Ron Atchison “True Grit” award. During his first three years with the Hilltops, Walls played behind star quarterback Jared Andreychuk.
    Taking over as the starter last season, Walls showed he was more than ready for his opportunity. Compiling a 22-1 career record as the team’s starting quarterback, Walls showed great command of the offence and was the composed Joe Montana type leader that everyone wanted to follow.
MLB Bobby Ehman springs into action for the Hilltops.
    The Blue and Gold Award for dedication and commitment went to Price, who came through with big plays for the team game after game as a star pass catcher. Price built a big reputation for being a consistent deep threat.
    Simonsen claimed the Ray Syrnyk Trophy as the team’s top lineman. He has been one of the anchors on a standout offensive line and was the longest serving starter on that unit dating back to the beginning of the 2016 campaign.
    The Courtice Inspiration Award went to Ehman. During his first four seasons with the team, Ehman was a standout on special teams and stepped in wherever he could on defence. After star middle linebacker Cameron Schnitzler graduated for the club following the 2017 season, Ehman stepped into that vacated role for his well-deserved moment in the sun.
    The Don and Jim Seaman Memorial Award for the top linebacker went to Benkic, who fought through a number of injuries in his career to either often hold a starting spot or be a regular in the linebacker rotation.
RT Kirk Simonsen, left, gets set to lock on a block for the Hilltops.
    The Drs. Landa-Doig Award as the team’s most outstanding graduate was presented to Peters. Peters was named the top defensive player in the CJFL in 2018.
    He attended the training camp for the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders and was on the Roughriders practice roster before rejoining the Hilltops for his final CJFL campaign. Peters deserves another shot to crack a CFL roster in 2019.
    Ewanchyna would fill in at any receiver position and became a strong kick returner for the team. He enjoyed getting to play three seasons with and see Josh, who is his younger brother, grow into a star.
    Guillet built an inspirational story returning to play in all of the Hilltops games in the 2018 season after missing the entire 2017 campaign with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Guillet had 2.5 sacks in the regular season and one to conclude his career in the fourth quarter of the Canadian Bowl win over the Rams.
Connor Guillet (#76) and friends pose for pictures with the Canadian Bowl.
   It is the fitting this group holds the distinction of being the only players to win five CJFL championship rings during their playing careers.
    Defensive back Evan Mantyka took the Past President’s Trophy as the team’s rookie of the year. In Mantyka and the rest of the Hillltops returning players, the team’s future is in good hands.
The Hilltops will be in the “mix for six” in 2019.
    While attention will begin to turn to the next CJFL season, the contributions of “The Great Eight” fifth-year players from 2018 will live on in Hilltops lore forever.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to
    If you like what you see here, you might want to donate to the cause to keep independent media like this blog going. Should you choose to help out, feel free to click on the DONATE button in the upper right corner. Thank you for stopping in.