Monday, 18 November 2019

Hilltops show it is possible to do things in the right way

Hilltops’ Jesse McNabb shares the Canadian Bowl at the Santa Claus Parade. 
    For people of Saskatoon, the venerable Saskatoon Hilltops provide a security blanket.
    No matter how messed up things seem to get in the world – all you have to do is check social media feeds on Twitter or Facebook to see that – the Hilltops are still that one local institution that has the image where good things can come to good people when they do things right.
    On Saturday at McLeod Stadium in Langley, B.C., the Hilltops claimed an 11-6 victory in a defensive slugfest over the host Rams in the CJFL championship game – the Canadian Bowl. For the Rams, that was their only loss of the 2019 campaign as they finished with a 12-1 overall mark.
    For the Hilltops, that marked the sixth straight time they have won the CJFL title, and they claimed the league crown for the ninth time in the last 10 years.
    This run of title wins is the byproduct of the Hilltops always doing things right. The same goes with the other impressive feats that this team has on the go.
Tyler Hermann (#12) have a big final campaign for the Hilltops.
    Those feats include winning an impressive 22 CJFL championships in team history, winning 31 straight games in a row, winning 29 straight games in a row on the road and claiming victory in a CJFL record 20 straight post-season games.
    It is highly likely the Hilltops current overall and road winning streaks are CJFL records too.
    The Hilltops finished the 2019 campaign with a 12-0 overall record and have posted perfect seasons in back-to-back campaigns.
    The perfect season in 2019 is particularly impressive on the coaching front, as the Hilltops dealt with a high turnover in starters from the previous season. They had contests where they looked vulnerable over their first four regular season games, but they still found a way to win.
    That included downing the Huskies in Edmonton 24-22 on Sept. 1 and getting past the Regina Thunder 28-21 on Sept. 7 at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. The Hilltops entered the fourth quarter trailing on the scoreboard in both contests before pulling out victory.
Riley Keating led the Hilltops in tackles.
    Legendary head coach Tom Sargeant added a pair of incredible milestones. He picked up his 200th career win and has compiled a 210-30-2 career record in the CJFL’s regular season and post-season to become the all-time leader in head coaching victories in Canada’s amateur post-secondary football ranks.
    He surpassed retired Regina Rams head coach Frank McCrystal for that distinction.
    McCrystal had a 208-104-2 record in the regular season and post-season in both the CJFL and U Sports. He was the head coach of the Rams from 1984 to 2014, and they played 15 seasons in the CJFL and 16 campaigns in U Sports over that time as the University of Regina Rams.
    On why the Hilltops succeed, you earn your spot on the field through hard work and respect is given to the veterans that have put in their time. As a result, the Hilltops under Sargeant always talk about playing for their fifth-year players and helping them graduate from the CJFL as league champions.
    The fifth-year veterans also go out of their way to make the newcomers feel like part of the team/family and pass down lessons they learned.
    The Hilltops know that how they act on and off the field is important, and they always do their best to carry themselves with dignity, humility and respect. The individual discipline in the world away from football always seems to carry itself on the field.
    The team and individual players set goals and work their hardest to achieve those goals. The coaches always seem to provide a great road map to help the team and individual players get to their goals.
Hilltops HC Tom Sargeant upped his career wins total to 210.
    The Hilltops have always lived up to all these intangibles.
    That is why it becomes extra sweet when someone like fifth-year quarterback Tyler Hermann takes over the starting role in his final year with the team and has a solid campaign. He had to work off some rust when it came to being a regular since his Grade 12 year with Saskatoon’s Holy Cross High School Crusaders football program.
    After the Hilltops eight regular season games, Hermann posted solid numbers completing 123-of-192 passes for 1,908 yards, 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He graduates from the Hilltops sporting a 12-0 overall record as the team’s starting quarterback, with all of those starts coming in 2019.
    The same goes for middle linebacker Jadyn Pingue and outside linebacker Riley Keating, who both played out their respective fifth years of eligibility. Both played special teams and substituted in on defence during their first four seasons with the club.
    They both had incredible fifth years in their only full campaigns as starters. Pingue was the CJFL’s most outstanding defensive player and Keating topped the Hilltops with 46 total tackles during the regular season.
Jadyn Pingue was named the CJFL’s most outstanding defensive player.
    The Hilltops are conscious when it comes to passing on their tradition. When former linebacker Justin Filteau passed away tragically in a plane crash in early June, the coaches ensured they would teach the current team why Filteau was the quintessential Hilltops player.
    Filteau’s final season with the Hilltops was in the CJFL championship campaign in 2014 that started the current run is six straight title wins. He was a CJFL all-Canadian all-star that year.
    Since none of the current Hilltops ever played with Filteau, the coaches had to explain to the current generation of players how much Filteau, who played with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team as well, meant to the provincial football scene and how much time he put in giving back to it.
    Noting how the enthusiastically and loudly the current Hilltops did Filteau’s Ric Flair cheer after their final home practice before going to the Canadian Bowl, it was obvious the lessons about Filteau’s impact were successfully passed on.
    While the Hilltops have been who they are for decades, it is reassuring in today’s world to see how their great traits haven’t changed.
Rylan Kleiter (#7) made a number of clutch kicks for the Hilltops.
    In today’s world, it is easy to be dragged down by the bad. To note, the Hilltops completed their perfect season during a time when a very toxic federal election campaign went down that created the term #Wexit and arguments that Western Canada - specifically Alberta and Saskatchewan - needs to form its own independent state and separate from the country.
    In the last 10 days, you had the fallout from Hockey Night In Canada’s split with Don Cherry, and the messages that hit social media or any type of media were arguably way more toxic than those that came from the federal election.
    When it comes time for the Hilltops to get to work on football, Sargeant refers to any outside distraction like that as “noise.”
    Still, society as a whole seems to get dragged into these stories like the federal election and Cherry. It is naïve to think these things don’t affect young men in their late teens and early 20s who play football and are starting out in the working world.
    If things like this are really affecting the players, the coaches often fill the role of one-on-one sounding board, when that time comes.
Ben Abrook piled up the rushing yards as a workhorse power back.
    In today’s world, the biggest lessons the Hilltops program can pass on to the current players are perseverance and learning how to figure things out as you go.
    Hilltops offensive line coach Donnie Davidsen might be the best at figuring things out as you go. He can host seminars on why you need to teach the 6-foot tall offensive lineman different techniques than the 6-foot-5 offensive lineman in order to allow both to be successful.
    If you talk to Davidsen on that front, you can tell he self-learned from a lot of different areas and put together a course of action to make his players better.
    When the current Hilltops players graduate, they will face a working world or real life world in the current day where it seems honour no longer exists and you could be fired on any day for actually doing your job. You saw that right. In today’s world, you could be fired on any day for actually doing your job.
    If you think about that point, you can see why there are so many breakdowns in the current world on a work or personal front.
    It is common in today’s world to do everything right on a work and personal front and still fail. Those are moments where the lessons of perseverance come through.
The Hilltops are celebrated in Saskatoon for doing things the right way.
    That is why in Saskatoon it always feels reassuring when the Hilltops once again go on a run to win another CJFL title, because you know they are doing things the right way.
    Even if you don’t follow the team in an ultra-passionate way, it still feels good knowing they had another successful season that resulted in a league title.
    It is also way more fun to have messages and pictures of those moments fill our social media feed.

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