Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Hilltops’ Arno aspires to make classroom a long time home

Centre Patrick Arno locks up on a block for the Hilltops.
    Patrick Arno is strong at focusing on the Saskatoon Hilltops next game, but he admits his thoughts have drifted to thinking about the day after the team’s next game.
    On Saturday, the Hilltops (11-0 overall) travel to Langley, B.C., to face the host Rams (12-0 overall) in the CJFL championship game – The Canadian Bowl. The Hilltops will be trying to win an unprecedented sixth straight CJFL title in that contest.
    On Sunday, Arno will no longer be the starting centre on the Hilltops offensive line. He will have finished playing in his fifth campaign with the venerable Saskatoon side and have exhausted his CJFL eligibility.
    “It is going to be a reality check,” said Arno. “It is going to be different.
    “It is going to be something I have almost a feeling of losing something or losing someone, because it will be a club that is close to me. It will just be kind of over in a split second, so it will be different.”
Patrick Arno gets set to snap the football.
    Arno has taken steps to transition out of his life as a hulking 6-foot-4, 300-pound leader of the Hilltops offensive line to one day becoming a teacher. He has attended classes for some time at the University of Saskatchewan, and he has been accepted into the faculty of education at the University of Regina starting in January of the new year.
    A graduate of Saskatoon’s high school football ranks in the Tommy Douglas Collegiate Tigers, the move to the Saskatchewan capital will mark the first time Arno has not lived in “The Bridge City.”
    “It is a little bit different,” said Arno. “I’ve never lived away from home.
    “I’m just trying to find a place and trying to figure out where there is a good place to live in Regina and where is not to live. I’m just figuring out my schedules and all that kind of stuff.”
    Arno said he hasn’t talked to the University of Regina Rams about playing football for them at the U Sports level. Actually, he said he hasn’t talked to any U Sports football program about extending his time in the game.
    The 22-year-old’s focus after Hilltops has revolved around setting up his life after football.
Taylon Elderkin (#67) and Patrick Arno (#57) team up on a block.
    “I’m just going to school and focusing on my career so far,” said Arno. “If something comes, then I will figure it out then.”
    Arno has made tonnes of good memories playing with the Hilltops. He said his eyes were opened about possibly joining the storied junior team, when Hilltops defensive backs coach Brent Turkington visited with him during an awards banquet at Tommy Douglas.
    After that awards banquet, Arno attended Hilltops spring camp in 2015. Hilltops offensive line coach Donnie Davidsen told Arno he was competing for a spot along with another Tommy Douglas grad.
    The other Tommy Douglas grad elected not to rejoin the Hilltops for their main training camp, and Arno’s time with the team began.
Patrick Arno (#57) gets things set on the Hilltops offensive line.
    “It has really gone by really fast, quicker than when you imagine at the start,” said Arno, who was a practice roster player in his first season. “It has been a long ride.
    “It has been a good ride.”
    During his rookie campaign in 2015, Arno spent his time learning from a veteran offensive line. Centre Jordan Hydomako, left guard Nathan Heide and left tackle Terry Thesen were all in their fifth-years of eligibility and starred at their respective positions.
    Arno proved to be a quick study. He found himself taking over as the team’s starting centre in his second year in 2016 after the graduation of the three fifth-year veterans.
    “I had good leaders,” said Arno. “It was good to start.
Patrick Arno (#57) and the Hilltops stellar starting offensive line.
    “I was thrown into things quickly and kind of just had to figure it out as quick as I could. It was really good. It was really fun, and I think that experience has made me into the player that I am today.”
    Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant said Arno gained his starting spot quickly by earning the trust of the team’s coaches with his play.
    “Number one, I’ve always loved his consistency as a snapper,” said Sargeant. “The other thing I’ve liked about him was his frame.
    “He is a big man. You get that big guy in the middle, and it makes a big difference. He creates a lot of space.
    “He likes to play physical. He likes to have fun. The guys really rally around him, and I love coaching him.”
Patrick Arno (#57) in action in last year’s Canadian Bowl.
    Over the years, Sargeant said Arno kept playing at a high level and always handled the complexities of the centre position well.
    “As a centre, you have to make a lot of the line sight adjustments and get everything orchestrated, and he has done a real good job of communicating,” said Sargeant. “As a captain this year, he has brought very valuable and strong leadership.
    “It is fun to see him evolve over the last three or four years to be a dominant offensive lineman on a team that is known for running the ball.”
    Arno said starting as a second-year player was one of his biggest memories with the team, even though an injury kept him out of that season’s Canadian Bowl game victory.
    He has enjoyed playing in the Hilltops last two Canadian Bowl wins and is looking forward to a third straight start in the CJFL title game on Saturday.
Patrick Arno (#57) walks on to SMF Field with mom, Brenda Arno.
    On top of playing football, Arno has an appreciation for the Hilltops history. He felt fortunate he could celebrate national title win in the team’s now demolished old clubhouse and the state of the art new one the club moved into before the start of last season.
    “Lots of guys here don’t really have those memories,” said Arno. “I was lucky enough to be in the old clubhouse for three years.
    “It is just lots of tradition there. Lots of these young guys don’t really know what it was like. They just come here and they have this new big clubhouse, and it is completely different then from when I started.
    “I like to keep the tradition going of what I knew from the old clubhouse to this clubhouse. It has been good.”
    Of course, Arno wants to help the Hilltops complete another successful chapter in their story by helping the club win an unprecedented 22nd CJFL championship.
    He will soak in being in the middle of the offensive line that contains pals in Jonathan Chisholm at right tackle, Taylon Elderkin at right guard, Ryder Klisowsky at left guard and Mason Ochs at left tackle for one last time.
Patrick Arno (#57) celebrates with part of the Canadian Bowl last year.
    This year’s battle in the Canadian Bowl with the Rams presents a unique challenge as the two sides meet in the CJFL’s title game for a second straight year.
    A year ago, the Hilltops hammered the Rams 58-21 at Saskatoon Minor Football Field to retain possession of the Canadian Bowl. Now that the Rams know what the Hilltops are about, Arno is expecting a lot tougher encounter this time around.
    “It will be interesting,” said Arno. “I think we are just looking to run the ball.
    “I want to get the O-line going, and I think the team will take care of itself. We’ve been preparing ourselves enough for this all year. My experience and my O-line’s experience and my team’s experience has been building up for this moment.”

Haight takes CJFL’s community service award

Caleb Haight (#53) won the CJFL’s Past Commissioner’s Award.
    Caleb Haight’s community involvement has been recognized at the national level in the CJFL.
    On Tuesday, the defensive end for the Saskatoon Hilltops was named the winner of the CJFL’s Past Commissioner’s Award for his community service work. Haight was named the winner of the Prairie Football Conference’s Al Park Community Service award earlier this post-season.
    The 22-year-old is playing in his final campaign of CJFL eligibility and his third full season with the Hilltops.
    Haight, who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 260 pounds, has had his hand in many community endeavors. In 2016, he started out by driving local inner city kids to court-mandated community service and volunteered at local church youth groups.
    During the 2017 and 2018 high school football seasons, Haight served as the defensive line coach for the Bedford Road Collegiate Redhawks, while still playing with the Hilltops.
Caleb Haight, left, has had a strong post-season for the Hilltops.
    He became involved in the Hilltops outreach program and represented the team in various parades and community breakfasts. Haight tutored high school debate teams and volunteered as a judge at local tournaments.
    The Clavet, Sask., product has volunteered his time as a defensive line coach at the Hilltops last two high school camps.
    This season, Haight served as the head coach of the six-a-side Kensington Stampeders Grade 5/6 football team. On top of that, Haight volunteers with the Kinsmen Hockey League tying skates and working the scoreboard.
    On the field, Haight is have a strong post-season run piling up three sacks, six defensive tackles, two defensive tackle assists, two special teams tackles and one pass knockdown in the Hilltops three playoff games.

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