Sunday, 18 August 2019

Ochs loves being part of lunch-pail crew with Hilltops

Mason Ochs, left, has been a CJFL all-Canadian all-star the last two years.
    Mason Ochs figured he would be a good fit for the Saskatoon Hilltops, and that gut feeling was confirmed when he joined the powerhouse CJFL squad.
    A graduate from Tommy Douglas Collegiate Tigers football program in the Saskatoon high school ranks, Ochs enjoyed getting his nose down and dirty on the offensive line in the physical part of the game.
    Upon joining the Hilltops in 2016, he felt surrounded by teammates who were like minded.
    “I liked the attitude here,” said Ochs. “I heard good things from former players.
    “It is just grab your lunch buckets and go.”
    Since that rookie campaign, Ochs shot to star status at left tackle and named CJFL all-Canadian all-star in each of the past two seasons. Now in his fourth campaign with the team, Ochs is the cornerstone on a mostly veteran Hilltops offensive line.
    On Sunday, he was again opening up the running lanes and protecting his quarterback helping the Hilltops down the Rifles in Winnipeg 34-20 in the CJFL regular season opener for both clubs.
Mason Ochs (#73) protects the blindside of the Hilltops’ quarterbacks.
    The Hilltops have won the last five straight CJFL titles and Ochs was a member of the last three of those championship teams.
    While his team has been successful and he has personally been successful, Ochs said he focuses on staying humble through all the high points. That lesson was engrained in him as a rookie in 2016 playing behind then veteran offensive linemen in Tyler Hoath, Drayke Unger and Cord Ivanco, who have all since graduated from the team.
    Ochs frequently thinks about that veteran trio.
    “I learned a lot,” said Ochs, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 275 pounds. “I learned how to carry yourself on the team and how to keep your nose down and don’t get out of line or anything like that.”
    Ochs proved to be quick learner, and it vaulted him to the ever important starting left tackle spot on the offensive line, where he protects his quarterback’s blindside.
    His progression was so good the past two seasons that he participated in the training camp of the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders in late May and early June.
Mason Ochs works on techniques at Roughriders training camp.
    Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant said Ochs also had some natural gifts in size and strength that allowed him to be a starter in his second year.
    “He is one of our strongest players,” said Sargeant. “He has natural strength. He has just got it.
    “He just gets it. He knows how to play. He plays with great athleticism, great feet.
    “That was why he was able to go to ‘Rider camp this year was because of those abilities. He is just a high-end player. He looks great in our uniform, and he makes us play good.”
    Sargeant has enjoyed seeing Ochs excel over the years and gave credit to Hilltops offensive line coach Donnie Davidsen for helping the 21-year-old become an elite player.
    “To see his growth as a player and a person has just been awesome his confidence and his aggression,” said Sargeant. “He is such a great kid off the field.
    “You get between the lines he is a physical blocker. His growth and development through coach (Donnie) Davidsen and all his great coaching has really made Mason a high end player. We feel he is one of the top players in the league.
    “A lot of times we are going to be running in behind him. He is what he is. He is a physical and dominant athletic blocker that other teams have to reckon with his abilities.”
Mason Ochs (#73) takes part in a drill at Roughriders training camp.
    Fifth-year quarterback Tyler Hermann, who is in his first season as the Hilltops starter, said he feels fortunate that his blindside is protected by Ochs.
    “It is a piece of mind that is for sure having that guy around,” said Hermann. “The experience he has gotten, and I’ve kind of seen him kind of develop thru the last few years.
    “He is a man among boys out there sometimes. He is keeping me safe, and I am extremely to have guys like him around for sure.”
    Ochs enjoyed the opportunity to go to Roughriders camp, and he added it was an eye-opening experience to see the preparation that goes on in the professional ranks.
    “Film study is no joke there,” said Ochs. “You’re watching tape and studying and writing notes constantly.
    “Practice is just super technical, and they have film on all the time. They are recording practices’ every little detail. If your hands are two inches higher than they should be they will let you know about it.”
    Ochs said it was great to get to know the Roughriders veterans on the offensive line like left guard Brendon LaBatte. Ochs said he had some star struck moments but found it cool to hang out with players like LaBatte as if they had been friends for a long time.
Mason Ochs (#71) hangs with Philip Blake (#53) and Brendon LaBatte (#57)
    “It was incredible,” said Ochs. “It was just these guys are up there.
    “You’ve been watching them your whole life. Next thing you know you are there learning directly from them. You’re just watching them the whole time and copy what they do.”
    Ochs said his experience with the Roughriders helped plant a seed of what might be possible in the future.
    “It is something I could maybe do,” said Ochs. “It definitely showed me what I need to work on and what I need to improve.
    “It just shows you have to carry yourself.”
    As for the present, Ochs was to continue to help the Hilltops accomplish great things.
    “I’m very excited,” said Ochs. “Every year I get a chance to compete for a title.
    “It doesn’t get any better than that.”
    In Sunday’s win over the Rifles, the Hilltops jumped out to a 16-0 early in the second quarter, led 16-7 at halftime, extend their edge to 27-7 in the fourth quarter before finishing out with a 34-20 final.
    Saskatoon scored on a three-play, 75-yard drive on its first offensive series that was capped when Hermann hit fourth-year receiver Rylan Kleiter with a 24-yard TD toss for a 7-0 lead.
Mason Ochs, right, is pumped for the Hilltops new season.
    The Rifles conceded a safety before the first quarter came to a close, and Hilltops second-year running back Carter McLean ran in a touchdown from three-yards out early in the second quarter to give the visitors a 16-0 edge.
    Rifles running back Mathe Mitayango ran in a touchdown from seven yards out before the second quarter ended to cut the Hilltops lead to 16-7.
    Kleiter hit a 32-yard field goal for the Hilltops in the third quarter to give them a 19-7 edge. Early in the fourth quarter, John Brown scored a point off a punt single to give the Hilltops a 20-7 lead.
    Hermann threw two touchdown passes to fifth-year receiver Connor Graham to round out the Hilltops scoring from that point.
    Rifles quarterback Riley Naujoks threw a pair of touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to round out the scoring for his side. He hit receivers Luke McMillan for one scoring toss and Jake Roger for the other scoring strike.
    Naujoks completed 22-of-42 passes for 339 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.
    In his first career start at quarterback for the Hilltops, Hermann completed 14-of-27 passes for 257 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Graham hauled in five passes for 123 yards to go with his two touchdown grabs.
    Running back Ben Abrook carried the ball 31 times for 144 yards.
    Also on Sunday, the Regina Thunder won their regular season opener 34-21 over the Wildcats in Edmonton. On Saturday, the host Edmonton Huskies downed the Calgary Colts 36-13 in the regular season opener for both sides in that contest.
Ben Abrook ran for 144 yards for the Hilltops.
    The Hilltops return to action this coming Sunday, when they travel to Regina to take on the Thunder at 3 p.m. at Mosaic Stadium.

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