Sunday, 7 October 2018

The Hilltops most dynamic player

Ewanchyna has delivered big plays since rookie year

Josh Ewanchyna has been a play maker for the Hilltops since day one.
    During a big championship game moment as a rookie, Josh Ewanchyna gained a new appreciation for what it was like to be part of the Saskatoon Hilltops family.
    Back on Nov. 12, 2016, the Hilltops were trying to win their 19th Canadian Junior Football League title and third Canadian Bowl league championship game in a row. The Canadian Bowl was being played at Westhills Stadium in Langford, B.C., and the visiting Hilltops found themselves down 19-16 to the host Westshore Rebels with just under five minutes expired in the third quarter.
    Rebels quarterback Ashton Mackinnon has just scored a major on a one-yard sneak to give his side a three-point lead.
    At that moment, Ewanchyna stepped up to the forefront as the Hilltops X-factor. He took the kickoff following Mackinnon’s major score back 105 yards for a Hilltops touchdown to put Saskatoon up 23-19. The Hilltops proceeded to expand their edge to 37-19 and ultimately claimed the contest 37-25.
    Ewanchyna had a rushing touchdown in the first half of that contest, but the second half kickoff return touchdown was the highlight of his rookie year.
    “Having been my first year and to have such a big impact on a game like that, I wasn’t happy (just) for myself,” said Ewanchyna, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 195 pounds. “I was happy for everyone that was happy for me and just having all that joy and people just like appreciating that.
    “It gave me that feeling that it is not just about me making big plays. It is about playing for the team and playing for everyone around you especially the fifth years when you are here.”
    Ewanchyna continued to be an X-factor as a sophomore for the Hilltops last season playing behind Logan Fischer and Adam Machart at the running back position.
Josh Ewanchyna, right, breaks away from a Regina Thunder tackler.
    Following the Hilltops fourth straight Canadian Bowl victory in 2017, Fischer, who was the team’s established star at running back, graduated from the club having exhausted his CJFL eligibility. Machart moved on to play for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in the U Sports ranks.
    Now in his third CJFL season, Ewanchyna has risen to a star role at the running back position. The 20-year-old has won a pair of offensive player-of-the-week awards for the Prairie Football Conference this season.
    On Sunday at Clarke Stadium in Edmonton, the graduate of Saskatoon’s Holy Cross High School carried the ball 22 times for 187 yards and scored three touchdowns as the Hilltops blanked the host Wildcats 53-0 in a CJFL regular season clash.
    On the campaign, Ewanchyna has carried the ball 107 times for 830 yards and scored 10 touchdown playing six out of the Hilltops seven regular season games to date having missed the first contest with a minor injury. He strives to emulate what Fischer and Machart did with club and said it was eye-opening learning from those two players.
    “I wanted to kind of sit back and you know just like watch those guys, see what they did at practice, see what they did for film (and) how their body language was,” said Ewanchyna. “You want to be like those guys.
    “You kind of realize those guys weren’t playing for themselves. They were playing for the team, the Hilltops, the ‘H’ on their helmets.
    “I just want to do the same and kind of follow in the footsteps as those guys did. I don’t know if I will ever get to those high standards, but it is definitely worth a try.”
Josh Ewanchyna has piled up the rushing yards for the Hilltops this season.
    Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant said Ewanchyna has been an impact player with the Hilltops since arriving with the team. The sideline boss was proud of how his talented tailback handled playing behind Fischer and Machart in 2016 and 2017.
    Sargeant said Ewanchyna is able to be a dynamic player on the field due to a number of characteristics.
    “Number one, he is the second fastest player on our team, and he is just so physical,” said Sargeant. “He is tough.
    “He bounces off blocks. He knows how to put his body in good positions. He has great balance and really good vision.
    “He is just getting better and better at understanding what he needs to do and jelling with that offensive line. It is always a mechanism that needs to work with each other. He is doing a real good job of blending into that.”
    With the Hilltops having one regular season game remaining before they embark on the post-season, Sargeant expects Ewanchyna to play a sizable role in the team’s quest to win a fifth straight CJFL championship.
    “The Hilltops love to run the ball in the playoffs, so we’re going to pound that rock,” said Sargeant. “Josh is a big part of that.
    “He is a natural playmaker. We’re going to need him to stay healthy and make those type of plays.
    “If he does that, that puts us in great spots to be the team that we want and expect ourselves to be in this championship run for 2018.”
    While Ewanchyna has a big family with the players and staff on the Hilltops, he has relished the chance to play alongside a blood family member in older brother and 22-year-old fifth-year receiver Adam. Adam opened the scoring of Sunday’s game hauling in an eight-yard touchdown pass early in the first quarter.
    Josh said he always looked up to Adam as they grew up together and followed Adam up through football.
Josh Ewanchyna can get downfield with great speed.
    When Adam was a Grade 12 star with Holy Cross’s football team, Josh was the Grade 10 youngster that wanted to be in Adam’s position.
    With the Hilltops, Josh became the bigger name player, but he found it huge to have Adam in the dressing room to help with the various ups and downs of a season.
    “I’ve been real close to my brother kind of coming up playing Hilltops,” said Josh Ewanchyna. “He is going out on his final one, so it is a little bit bittersweet this year playing my last year with him seeing him there in the locker room.
    “I’m going to have to get used to that next year not seeing him. He was always the one kind of pushing me to do better things with where I am today. It is awesome.”
    Going forward, Josh Ewanchyna said the Hilltops can’t overlook any opponent, especially with single-elimination playoff games sitting around the corner. While there are parts of the season that can be a grind, Ewanchyna admits the campaign does seem to go by too quickly, so it is important to enjoy the moment.
    “Four months out of the year, you have to kind of commit your life to it,” said Ewanchyna. “Next thing you know, you’re almost done it.
    “Every week, every game, every time you have practice, instead of sitting there kind of pouting about being there, you just have to enjoy the little things and be outside with your friends. You know happy you’re there. When you are on the field, you just have to work.
    “It is crazy how fast time flies. You don’t really realize it until it is gone. Definitely enjoying those wins and those times after with the guys celebrating is definitely what you have to take into account and enjoy the most.”
    With Sunday’s win in the books, the Hilltops improve to 7-0 on the season, extend their overall winning streak to 15 games including the regular season and playoffs and extend their road winning streak to 23 contests including the regular season and post-season.
    The Wildcats fell to 2-5 and were eliminated from CJFL playoff contention.
Josh Ewanchyna will see more touches as Hilltops head to the playoffs.
    In Sunday’s runaway win, Hilltops star quarterback Jordan Walls completed 14-of-26 passes for 220 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Fifth-year star receiver Jason Price hauled in four passes for 103 yards and scored one touchdown.
    David Solie booted field goals from 31, 23 and 10 yards out for the Toppers.
    Backup quarterback Tyler Hermann hit receiver John Brown for a touchdown pass, and the Hilltops forced the Wildcats to concede a safety in the contest.
    Saskatoon led 10-0 after the first quarter and 29-0 at halftime.
    Defensive end Connor Delahey had seven total tackles for the Hilltops, while rookie safety Evan Mantyka had a pair of interceptions.
    The Hilltops, who have first place in the PFC locked up, close the regular season this coming Sunday hosting the Winnipeg Rifles (3-4) at 1 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. The Rifles are locked into finishing fourth in the PFC, which means the two sides will meet in a PFC semifinal contest in the CJFL playoffs.

Back in the Express with Hilltops assistant coaches

Donnie Davidsen, left, is one of many key assistant coaches for the Hilltops.
    I was back in the pages of the Saskatoon Express this week with the cover story focused on the Saskatoon Hilltops assistant coaches.
    The piece focuses on how offensive line coach Donnie Davidsen became involved with the team and his journey with the club that is now into its 13th season. Davidsen spent a number of years in Saskatoon’s high school ranks before joining the Hilltops.
    Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant goes into detail about how important the assistant coaches are to the team.
    The club’s assistant coaches this season include defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Jeff Yausie, quarterbacks coach Shane Reider, defensive backs coach Brent Turkington, defensive line coach Dave Fisher, running backs coach Andre Lalonde and receivers coach Barclay Schlosser.
    Ben Hodson was added as another offensive line coach and Evan Turkington was added as another receivers coach as the season went on. They ultimately returned for a second campaign in those roles.
    The piece on the Hilltops assistant coaches can be found by clicking here.

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