Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Hilltops’ “Sarge” should have been CJFL coach of the year

Hilltops HC Tom Sargeant makes a point during the Canadian Bowl.
    The Langley Rams fate against the Saskatoon Hilltops was sealed the night before the Canadian Bowl.
    Last Friday at the Canadian Junior Football League awards banquet at the Radisson Hotel, Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant was up for national coach of the year honours due to winning the coach of the year award in the Prairie Football Conference. Sargeant, who is the all-time leader in regular season coaching victories in the history of the CJFL at 147, was given CJFL coach of the year honours twice way back in 2000 and 2003.
    With Hilltops trying to complete a perfect season and win their fifth straight CJFL and eighth league title in the last nine years, it should have been a slam dunk that Sargeant would be named coach of the year this season.
    The CJFL Gord Currie Coach of the Year award went to Bob Reist, who is the head coach of the Chilliwack, B.C., based Valley Huskers of the British Columbia Football League.
    The next day after the awards banquet, the Hilltops proceeded to wipe out the Rams 58-21 in the Canadian Bowl at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. The win game the Hilltops a perfect season at 11-0, a fifth straight CJFL title, an eight CJFL title win in the last nine years and the 21st CJFL championship in team history.
Hilltops HC Tom Sargeant gets set for the national anthem.
    If you talk to Sargeant about the coach of the year award, he will shrug it off and say it isn’t that important in the bigger picture. In the big picture, it is about getting the Hilltops players to be at their best on the field in game day action and away from the field in their everyday lives in the community.
    If the team’s coaches do their job correctly, the CJFL title will follow.
    Sargeant has the CJFL championship rings to prove that fact. He has 12 as the Hilltops head coach, two as an assistant coach with the team and one as a player. His first championship ring as a player was earned way back in 1985.
    Still, the fact that the Hilltops won the CJFL national title in eight of the last nine years and Sargeant wasn’t named coach of the year once over that span of time is just wrong. He took on the role of Hilltops offensive coordinator in 2017 and 2018 as well.
    The CJFL lost a good chance to make up for an oversight that definitely added up over the eight previous seasons.
    In Canadian sports, the Hilltops run of success is matched and only exceeded by one team in recent history, and that would be the Carleton University Ravens men’s basketball team in U Sports.
    From 2002-03 to 2016-17, the Ravens 13 won out of 15 U Sports national titles, which includes a run of seven straight national titles from 2010-11 to 2016-17.
    Over those 15 seasons, Ravens head coach Dave Smart was named the U Sports coach of the year in men’s basketball eight times, and every one of those wins came in a Ravens championship season.
Hilltops HC Tom Sargeant backed by DC Jeff Yausie.
    When the Hilltops run in the last nine CJFL seasons is compared that 15-season run of the Ravens men’s basketball team in U Sports, the CJFL comes away looking really bad when it comes to giving out the coach of the year award.
    With that said, the coaches in the CJFL that claimed coach of the year honours have always had a sound case and were deserving of being bestowed that honour.
    Reist guided the Huskers to a 6-4 regular season record and their first playoff berth since 2008. The Huskers had been winless the three previous campaigns before the 2018 season.
    Still, the Hilltops had one of their greatest moments in team history with their Canadian Bowl win last Saturday. In posting their fourth perfect season in team history, the Hilltops had arguably their most dominant campaign.
    Between the regular season and playoffs, the Hilltops trailed on the scoreboard for a combined 81 seconds. Just think about that. They trailed all year for a total of 81 seconds.
    The odds of doing that in any football league are astronomical.
    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.
    Many members of the Hilltops had great seasons. Running back Josh Ewanchyna surpassed 1,000 yards rushing in the regular season. He carried the ball 134 times for 1,007 yards and 14 touchdowns, which included missing one game due to injury.
Hilltops HC Tom Sargeant talks to QB Jordan Walls.
    Quarterback Jordan Walls threw for over 2,000 yards in the regular season. He completed 122-of-197 passes for 2,010 yards, 18 touchdowns and four interceptions.
    Walls favourite target in receiver Jason Price hauled in 31 passes for 709 yards and scored four touchdowns.
    Linebacker Cody Peters was named the CJFL’s Larry Wruck Defensive Player of the Year award and was named a CJFL all-Canadian all-star. Hilltops star defensive tackles Garth Knittig and Jesse McNabb were both named all-Canadian all-stars for their outstanding campaigns.
    You could keep going down the roster.
    Sargeant pulled one of the best first class moves ever last Saturday putting his eight fifth-year players on the field for the final kneel downs of the Canadian Bowl in Walls, Price, Peters, receiver Adam Ewanchyna, offensive tackle Kirk Simonsen, defensive end Connor Guillet and linebackers Bobby Ehman and Adam Benkic.
    “Sarge” also has the backing of a stellar coaching staff. Hilltops defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Jeff Yausie is one of the best coaches you will find anywhere in Canada.
    Quarterbacks coach Shane Reider, defensive backs coach Brent Turkington, offensive line coaches Donnie Davidsen and Ben Hodson, defensive line coach Dave Fisher, running backs coach Andre Lalonde and receivers coaches Barclay Schlosser and Evan Turkington and life coach Bruce Rempel all contributed greatly to the Hilltops success this season.
Head coach Tom Sargeant walks the Hilltops sidelines.
    Still, Sargeant is the one who makes the Hilltops machine run and builds the coaching staff. He has had a great impact on the lives of countless Hilltops players for about the last three decades.
    You can be certain the focus of the Hilltops players was sharpened that much more last Saturday, when Sargeant wasn’t named the CJFL coach of the year.
    He is also backed by a great team at home in wife, Kris, and daughters, Macy and Abby. If the veteran sideline boss does have a bad day and it does happen, Kris, Macy and Abby are there to set him straight.
    If there was a Mount Rushmore for great amateur football coaches in Saskatchewan, Tom Sargeant would be on it along with late Regina Rams head coach Gord Currie, who the CJFL coach of the year award is named after, retired University of Saskatchewan Huskies head coach Brian Towriss, and retired Regina Rams/University of Regina Rams head coach Frank McCrystal.
    Currie and Towriss are in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. McCrystal and Sargeant should be there one day.
    The Hilltops this season clicked in all facets that is rarely seen in sports.
Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant contemplates a play call.
    The coach of the year award does help show that a team had a good year.
    Ultimately, the Hilltops in 2018 will be remembered for their Canadian Bowl victory. Team championships always create the lasting memory.
    Sargeant will always take team success over any individual honours.
    With that noted, it would have be great to see the CJFL do the right thing and name him coach of the year even if it would have been just once over the past nine seasons.

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