Sunday, 24 October 2021

Family feeling brings Chisholm back to Hilltops

Saskatoon closes regular season with 32-17 win in Winnipeg

Jonathan Chisholm (#71) walks out of the tunnel with his parents.
About a year ago, Jonathan Chisholm was in the working world and uncertain if he would play his fifth and final season for the Saskatoon Hilltops.

When the 2020 CJFL campaign was cancelled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that had gripped the world, the Hilltops were able to practice for six weeks in September and October, but Chisholm wasn’t there.

“This past year, I was actually back in Swift (Current) like in my hometown,” said Chisholm. “I went back to work.

“I didn’t really workout. I went on the oil rigs and just made some money to kind of get my life back on track.”

While the veteran right tackle was away from the team, an avenue existed for Chisholm to return. The Hilltops still had him on their roster in 2020.

Due to the fact the 2020 season was lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CJFL allowed players who were on team rosters as 22-year-old in 2020 to return this season as 23-year-olds in 2021. Once the 2021 campaign was given the green light to go, Chisholm had his heart set on rejoining the Hilltops, and he returned to Saskatoon.

Going into training camp, he admitted to being scared due to the fact he wasn’t sure what the season was going to be like.

“I hadn’t practised in a while, especially with COVID and everything,” said Chisholm, who stands 6-foot-7 and weighs 295 pounds. “After the first week of practice, I felt really good.

“The boys were there. We were all rallying up together. I felt it was electric.”

On Sunday, the Hilltops closed their CJFL regular season schedule downing Rifles 32-17 at Maple Grove Rugby Park in Winnipeg, Man.

Chisholm had a highlight moment that offensive lineman rarely get to obtain in that contest. With the Hilltops trailing the Rifles 3-0 in the first quarter, Chisholm caught a three-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Damon Dutton on a lineman eligible trick play to give the Hilltops a 7-3 lead.

Saskatoon never trailed again in that contest winning a fourth straight game to finish the regular season with a 6-2 record. The Rifles fell to 2-6 to wrap up their regular season schedule.

Jonathan Chisholm, right, is a standout at right tackle.
When Chisholm returned to the Hilltops, the 23-year-old found himself in a leadership role more than any point he was with the team. He wasn’t trying to project being the leader.

Chisholm found his role evolved that way when numerous newcomers were coming up to him with queries or just wanting to talk to get an extra feel of comfort.

He said the other two members of the Hilltops who are playing their fifth full season with the club in star left tackle Mason Ochs and standout boundary cornerback Jared Giddings have experienced the same thing too.

Chisholm added that linebacker Emmarae Dale, who is also in her graduating year with the team, is also being looked upon in that same way. Dale is playing out her first and only full season with the Hilltops after being recruited to join the storied CJFL squad after having a lot of success with the Saskatoon Valkyries of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League.

While Dale is a newcomer with the Hilltops, she is well known by the team for her time with the Valkyries and the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s track and field team.

“It is pretty awesome,” said Chisholm. “There are four of us graduating, and these guys just look up to us.

“They think we are their parents, and it feels good. They are guys I like talking to. This year, they were very nervous.

“I was very vocal about if you needed to say something or ask questions please do so. We want you guys to like being here and feel welcome and make sure you guys like playing the game. That is what matters most.”

Unfortunately, events on the field didn’t unfold as planned. In the Hilltops second game of the season on August 29, Chisholm suffered a knee injury in his team’s 35-18 victory over the Colts in Calgary.

Thanks to the fact the Hilltops had two bye weeks, Chisholm was able to take six weeks to make another comeback to the field. The bye weeks cut down the games he missed to four contests.

Chisholm was pumped to see Jayson Kehler play well as the Hilltops starting right tackle position during that time. Kehler is in his fourth full season with the Hilltops.

Chisholm made it back for the Hilltops final regular season home game on October 17, when they romped over the Edmonton Wildcats 44-7 at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.

Jonathan Chisholm spent 2020 in the working world.
He participated in the traditional last walk out of the tunnel the Hilltops do with their graduation players, where they take a walk out of the tunnel to the field with their parents. He made that walk with his mother, Donna, and father, John.

“I know my parents were really happy to come out on the field,” said Jonathan Chisholm. “I was happy for them, especially when I gave my mom flowers. She was really excited and really happy.

“It just felt really special, especially with all the players just being there and just supporting you.”

Legendary Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant was happy to see Chisholm make it back for a final stretch from his injury.

“Number one, we love running the ball,” said Sargeant. “We love having big physical offensive linemen.

“It just helps to bring an identity back to our team that he played a big part in creating. He is an aggressive player. He loves to get after you.

“Him and Mason Ochs are a great combination. We feel we have the two best tackles around, and we’ll take that against anybody. As I said, we’re excited for them to finish off their fifth years in grand style.”

Chisholm said he still isn’t 100 per cent physically, but he is enjoying the present. There is nowhere else he would want to be than with the Hilltops.

“I come to films, and I am still learning,” said Chisholm. “Being here is the most important part than just being at home.

“It is just absolutely crazy. It honestly feels like Week 3 for me right now. It is really like playoffs are right around the corner.

“The weather is really good too. I can’t even complain right now. I’m pretty happy.”

When he does finally depart the Hilltops as a player, Chisholm said he will carry a tonne of memories with him and will always cherish his relationships with everyone connected with the team.

“Just being around the fans, the whole fanbase like the parents and the club and the trainers,” said Chisholm. “Everything just coming together.

“It feels like one big family. Going into that locker room and you see that sign, ‘It starts with you and ends with us.’ It means a lot to me just seeing that.”

Jonathan Chisholm caught a touchdown pass on Sunday.
In Sunday’s clash with the Rifles, Winnipeg took a 3-0 lead in the first quarter thanks to a 17-yard field goal from kicker Matt Kennedy.

The Hilltops responded with Chisholm’s touchdown catch to go ahead 7-3.

Before the first quarter ended, Dutton hit receiver Lachlan Horsley with a 10-yard touchdown pass to increase the Hilltops advantage to 14-3.

At the start of the second quarter, Rifles receiver Everrett Findley made an eight-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Bryson McNeil to cut the Hilltops lead to 14-10.

The Rifles had to concede a safety due to bad field position to increase the Saskatoon lead to 16-10.

The Hilltops put up another score when Dutton hit speedy pass catcher Ethan Godson with a 25-yard touchdown pass to increase the edge for the visitors to 23-10.

Before the second quarter ended, the Rifles got a one-yard rushing touchdown from Sekina Scheibler to trim Saskatoon’s lead to 23-17.

The Hilltops accounted for all the scoring in the second half. In the third quarter, kicker Teijon Abel-Douglas hit a field goal from 11 yards out to give the Hilltops a 26-17 advantage.

Early in the fourth quarter, star running back Carter McLean scored a touchdown on a four yard run. When the ensuing convert attempt hit the upright, the Hilltops lead sat as the game’s final outcome at 32-17.

The Hilltops finished second in the Prairie Football Conference and will have a bye to host a PFC semifinal game. That game is slated to be held on Sunday, November 7 at 1 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.

The Regina Thunder topped the PFC standings with a perfect 8-0 record, and they will host the other PFC semifinal also on Sunday, November 7.

The Edmonton Huskies finished third in the PFC with a 5-3 mark and they will host the sixth place Calgary Colts (1-7) in a PFC quarter-final on Sunday, October 31.

The Rifles placed fourth in the PFC and will host the Edmonton Wildcats (2-6) in the other PFC quarter-final contest on Sunday, October 31. The Rifles finished ahead of the Wildcats in the standings thanks to winning the one head-to-head game between the two sides.

Jonathan Chisholm, centre, is going to miss the Hilltops family feeling.
After the 2020 CJFL season was lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was decided all six of the PFC’s teams would participate in the post-season in 2021.

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