Friday, 11 August 2023

Hilltops get nods in CJFL Top 50

Storied Saskatoon squad opens regular season on Sunday

Charles Sawi was rated second on the CJFL Top 50 list.
Tom Sargeant is about team first, but he will always be up for his players receiving any individual recognition.

Heading into the 2023 CJFL regular season, the Hilltops had five players crack into the CJFL’s annual Top 50 players to watch list heading into the campaign. Running back and kick returner Charles Sawi was rated second, defensive end Riece Kack placed eighth, running back Boston Davidsen was listed 22nd, middle linebacker Matt Wist cracked in at 26th and defensive back Joe Yausie was rated 38th.

The Hilltops, who were rated third in the CJFL’s pre-season power rankings, open their regular season schedule on Sunday when they host the Edmonton Wildcats at 1 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.

Sawi cracking the list in the second spot was head turning considering he is entering his second campaign in the CJFL, and he is still 18-years-old.

“It is certainly a recognition of the type of playmaker that he is,” said Sargeant, who is the Hilltops legendary head coach. “At the end of the day, it is still a small sample size, because he really didn’t get a lot of touches.

“Certainly, Boston (Davidsen) is still our feature running back and the guy that we’re going to put a lot of emphasis in. Charles will get some of his reps there, and he’ll get some reps in other places as well. We have a pretty good core offence.

Riece Kack (#47) was rated eighth on the CJFL Top 50 list.
“We’ll move him around a little bit and try and showcase what his skill set is and see if he can earn that number being number two.”

The CJFL has produced Top 50 players lists at the start of each season since 2016. Sawi joins select company as only three other Hilltops players have been rated either first or second on the Top 50 lists that have come out.

 The first time the circuit ever did such a list in 2016, Hilltops linebacker Cole Benkic was rated first. 

One year later, Hilltops running back Logan Fischer cracked the Top 50 list in the second position. In 2018, Hilltops quarterback Jordan Walls was ranked first on the Top 50 list.

Benkic, Fischer and Walls were all in their respective final campaigns of CJFL eligibility when they reached those lofty ratings on the Top 50 list.

Last season, Sawi won the CJFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. He became the first member of the Hilltops to be named a rookie of the year for the entire CJFL since that honour was first handed out in 1998.

In 2022, Sawi, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 185 pounds, played through his rookie campaign in the CJFL at just 17 years of age and made some of the season’s most electrifying plays on offence and special teams. During the regular season, Sawi carried the ball 30 times for 342 yards and scored two touchdowns.

Boston Davidsen was rated 22nd on the CJFL Top 50 list.
On special teams, Sawi returned seven kickoffs for 168 yards and one touchdown, and five missed field goals for 271 yards that included a 125-yard return for a touchdown.

Sargeant, who is the all-time leader in career amateur post-secondary head coaching wins in Canadian football at 224 victories, said the splash plays Sawi made in 2022 picked up a lot of attention.

“First things first, he is so exciting on special teams, and that is where he made the majority of his name,” said Sargeant. “He runs pitch well, and he has a few things that really feature well into our offence.

“He is going to be our punt returner and kick returner. He is going to get into that offence way more than he was last year. Coach (Shane) Reider and the offensive staff have to keep figuring out how to get him in space, because once you get him in space, boy, he is tough to tackle out there.”

While Sawi captured the CJFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year Award, Davidsen had an outstanding campaign in his own right. 

In the Hilltops eight regular season contests, Davidsen, who is entering his final season of CJFL eligibility, carried the ball 149 times for 1,037 yards and seven touchdowns.

With Davidsen slated as the Hilltops top running back, Sargeant has his own set of expectations for Sawi in 2023.

Matt Wist was rated 26th on the CJFL Top 50 list.
“We just want him to be a solid, competitive player that fits in well with our offence, and at the end of the day, that is reliable,” said Sargeant. “We can rely on him consistently.

“He is accountable to himself and to his teammates. If he can do those things, then they usually turn into big things with the blue and gold.”

On August 3, the Hilltops fell 32-1 to the Hilltops Alumni Team in the annual Hilltops Alumni Game at Ron Atchison Field. The Hilltops enter the 2023 regular season with a young and inexperienced team playing out of a resetting Prairie Football Conference.

Sargeant said there is a bit of a different vibe going into Sunday’s game with the Wildcats compared to how the Hilltops started any of their other campaigns in recent memory.

“It is way different, because we have so many new starters in here,” said Sargeant. “Certainly, we saw that last week against the alumni that youth and the lack of experience.

“Hopefully, through that performance and that game, the coaches are coaching it up and coaching hard that they’re going to be ready to play against their peers in the Edmonton Wildcats, a foe we’ve gone against for years. They have a new coaching staff and a new regime. There is a lot of uncertainty.

Joe Yausie (#9) was rated 38th on the CJFL Top 50 list.
“At the end of the day, we’re just focusing on ourselves and making sure that we get out here, and we perform up to our standards and attack the goals that we’ve set. At the end of the day, let’s see where it takes us.”

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