Sunday, 1 September 2019

Giddings relishes role as Hilltops’ shutdown man

Saskatoon rallies past Huskies 24-22 in Edmonton

Jared Giddings makes an interception for the Hilltops last season.
    Jared Giddings didn’t want to have any letdowns or at least minimize the letdowns this season.
    Last season, the defensive back from Humboldt, Sask., was a Prairie Football Conference all-star for the Saskatoon Hilltops and helped them with a fifth straight Canadian Junior Football League title. This season, Giddings is playing his fourth campaign with the team, and he wants his squad to play as well as they did last year despite the fact the Hilltops experienced a sizable roster turnover.
    On defence, rush end Tristan Hering and defensive tackle Jesse McNabb were the only returning starters on the defensive line, while the linebacker group has three new starters. The defensive secondary returns four starters with Giddings manning the boundary corner position.
    “My expectation for myself was just to keep getting better and keep improving,” said Giddings, who stands 6-feet and weighs 185 pounds. “As a whole group as DBs, we’re the old guys on the defence.
    “We want to be able to lead this defence and prove that we are the number one team.”
    On Sunday, the reloading Hilltops won another early big season game traveling to Edmonton and downing the Huskies 24-22 in a CJFL regular season clash at Clarke Park. 
Jared Giddings made an interception this season.
    The Huskies led 14-0 after the first quarter and 19-7 at halftime.
    With Edmonton holding a 22-17 lead, Hilltops power running back Ben Abrook ran in the winning touchdown with 1:47 remaining in the fourth quarter to deliver the Hilltops to victory. Saskatoon improves to 3-0 with the win starting the 2019 campaign with three straight road games, while Edmonton falls to 2-1.
    Giddings had one interception in each of the Hilltops first two games. He is usually in the middle of most of the traffic in the secondary, and he likes it that way.
    “There is not a whole lot of pressure,” said Giddings. “Coaches, they trust me.
    “They trust me that I will do my job. I want to go out there and execute my job and play with a lot of enthusiasm. I’ve just been playing here for a long time it actually seems like that now.
    “Just every year, I keep getting better. They keep trusting me more and keep wanting me to do more things. I’m excited to do it.”
    When Giddings played high school football with the nine-man Humboldt Collegiate Institute Mohawks, he was a standout at slotback, safety, kick returner and kicker. He followed in the footsteps of older brother, Josh, who played for the Hilltops in their 2012 CJFL championship season and in 2013.
    Jared Giddings attended winter camps with the Hilltops, went to spring camp in 2016 looking to crack a roster spot and made the team. He said there was a big adjustment going from high school to the junior level.
Jared Giddings made a tackle during the Hilltops Alumni Game.
    “The game was a lot quicker,” said Giddings. “In high school, we didn’t do a whole lot of footwork.
    “We just kind of went out and just played. Here, it is focus on fundamentals and being part of a unit. You had to get used to playing with everybody and getting used to the different footwork.”
    Giddings said he got a lot better playing in the defensive secondary during his time with the Hilltops.
    “I’ve improved a lot,” said Giddings. “I don’t know how much, but I’d say 100 per cent.
    “I’m 100 per cent better than when I started, because I wasn’t all there with my feet and stuff. The coaches got me right and put me in good spots.”
    Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant figured his team had a winner in Giddings.
    “A great kid out of Humboldt,” said Sargeant. “We had his brother a few years beforehand, so we knew he came from good stock.
    “Boy, he has just been a proven player year in and year out. He has been playing in some big moments. He has made some big plays.
Jared Giddings secures an interception for the Hilltops.
    “He is our shutdown corner for the Saskatoon Hilltops. We are real proud to see his progress over time. As I said, he has become a very integral part of our success.”
    Sargeant said Giddings had a number of traits that make him a good shutdown corner.
    “He is real competitive,” said Sargeant. “He has that good ball sense, that ball hawking skill.
    “He loves getting after it. As I said, he looks good in our uniform. We always put him on the top receiver week in and week out, and he never lets us down.
    “After two games, he has two interceptions, so it sort of shows you his ability and his presence on the field. He certainly makes us a better team.”
    With the turnover the Hilltops experienced, Sargeant said Giddings moved up the depth chart in the leadership department, and the coaches expect him to make plays at an all-Canadian level. The legendary sideline boss believes Giddings could earn a CFL shot one day.
    “They are always looking for good Canadian DBs,” said Sargeant. “Certainly, the sky is the limit.
    “He (Giddings) is going to have to pay the price, put his nose to the grindstone and keep working hard to get bigger, stronger and faster. I’d never sell any of my players short. As I said, if he has the type of year we expect, you never know what opportunities lay ahead.”
    While CFL shot may come one day, Giddings is focused on helping the Hilltops in the present. He said the defence is still adjusting to the departure of seven starters from last season.
Jared Giddings (#6) celebrates the Hilltops CJFL title win last season.
    “They all left, and like last year they led the defence and they led the team,” said Giddings. “Coming in this year, we were kind of a little more inexperienced as a whole.
    “We have most of our DB group except (Logan) Bitz, so we felt pretty confident in that. We are still sorting some stuff out as you can see.”
    Ultimately, Giddings would like to help the Hilltops run their string of consecutive CJFL championships to six.
    “I’d love to finish it off with another title,” said Giddings. “Sarge probably says it every time you play for the fifth years.
    “We want to let them leave as champions, so that is what we are going to do. I’d say we are going to do everything in our power to get there anyway.”
    Sunday’s game was deemed a big one with both the Hilltops and Huskies sporting undefeated records and having met in last year’s PFC final that was won by Saskatoon 28-9. Sunday’s contest marks the only time the Hilltops and Huskies face each other in the 2019 CJFL regular season, which means the Hilltops hold the head-to-head standings tiebreaker between the squads due to their win.
Ben Abrook had the winning major for the Hilltops on Sunday.
    The Hilltops have now won their last 22 straight overall games including action in the regular season and playoffs. They have won their last 26 straight games on the road including three victories in the CJFL championship game – the Canadian Bowl.
    The Hilltops return to action this coming Saturday when they host their home opener against the Regina Thunder (2-1) at 7 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.

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