Saturday 9 September 2023

Douglas big catch for Hilltops

Flaman shines in romp over Thunder in Regina

Drake Douglas has emerged as one of the Hilltops to receivers.
Once a highly touted pass catcher coming out of Saskatchewan’s high school scene, Drake Douglas thought at one time his post-secondary football days ended even before they began.

When almost all sports in North American were halted due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that had gripped the world, Douglas committed to join the CJFL’s Regina Thunder on June 1, 2020. One his two older brothers, Ethan, played for the Thunder in 2018 and 2019.

Having played his final season with the Balfour Collegiate Bears Football Team in 2019, Drake Douglas practiced with the Thunder in the fall of 2020, but never played a down with the Regina CJFL side.

As there was no certainly when the sports world resume action, Douglas elected to move to Saskatoon for an opportunity in the working world. Another one of his older brothers, Braydan, had already relocated to “The Bridge City” along with his two sisters. He hadn’t even been looking for any post-secondary team to join when he got a call from legendary Saskatoon Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant in the fall of 2022.

“I had kind of just been taking a break from football,” said Douglas. “My brother (Braydan) ended up emailing ‘Sarge’ (Tom Sargeant) and sent him my highlight tape from high school, and ‘Sarge’ game me a call.

“It was three weeks or four weeks into the season. I just joined the team on the bye week that year and kind of went from there.”

Douglas was on the Hilltops roster when they went into their fourth game of the 2022 campaign. He made his debut with the storied CJFL club in their 35-17 victory over the Colts in Calgary on September 25, 2022 catching four passes for 29 yards.

The skilled pass catcher was happy his brother sent his high school highlights to Sargeant. The urge to get back into the game was there.

“I loved playing football and watching football,” said Douglas, who stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 170 pounds. “I always had it in the back of my mind, but I was definitely ready to have the cleats hung up and be moving on to the next stage of life.

“I got that call from ‘Sarge,’ and I just got into there. I got to practice, and it was like I never left it.”

Now in his second season with the Hilltops, Douglas has emerged as one of the team’s star receivers. Taking on the Thunder at Mosaic Stadium in Regina on Saturday night, Douglas saw one of his teammates have a big outing.

Drake Douglas joined the Hilltops part way through 2022.
Noah Flaman, a sure handed third-year receiver, caught three touchdowns as the Hilltops roared past the Thunder 36-6 in a CJFL regular season clash. With the win, the Hilltops improved to 4-0 to sit alone in first place in the Prairie Football Conference, while the Thunder fell to 3-1. The Thunder had won the three previous meetings between the two sides including action in the regular season and post-season.

While Douglas said it felt like he never left the game once he started playing for the Hilltops, he did feel like he wasn’t in football shape.

“I had played flag football that winter,” said Douglas. “I think I was in decent shape.

“You think you are in good shape, but then you go play a full football game in plus-25 weather. It is kind of different. It is hard to get right back into it.

“It took me a little bit to adjust to the physicality. The guys are definitely a lot stronger in the CJFL, and you have to adjust to stuff like that. At the same time when you play football all your life, you just do what you’ve always been doing.”

Douglas said he came into the 2023 campaign at a different level after taking part in the team’s off-season workouts with Ignite Athletics, winter practices, spring camp and getting a full training camp in.

“It is a night and day difference,” said Douglas, who had 18 catches for 254 yards and one touchdown in the Hilltops first three game. “I did all the Ignite workouts, so I was definitely coming in way better shape.

“That made it a lot easier. I felt way more ready to go. I feel a lot stronger and faster than I was last season just jumping in halfway through.”

Sargeant was quite pleased he was able to get Douglas in the Hilltops fold.

“Drake (Douglas) has been magnificent,” said Sargeant. “For him to come to us sort of middle of the year last year and by the end of the year he is a key offensive contributor.

“He is a punt returner, and he is a holder on our field goal team. Drake has multiple roles. He is a talented kid, and he loves football.

Drake Douglas has made some highlight catches for the Hilltops.
“He has come in here in a short period of time and established himself as a leader and as a player as a go-to guy. We make sure a lot of our offensive plays and systems go through him. We are proud of what he is about.”

Sargeant noted that Douglas’s playing style on the field kind of mirrors that of a former great of the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders in Weston Dressler.

“There are certainly some similarities,” said Sargeant. “He is just a multiuse player.

“He has a lot of different skill sets. He is great after he catches the ball. He is great when the ball is in flight.

“He knows how to use his body and how to get in the way to make the plays basically is how it looks.”

Douglas said he watched various receivers growing up, but he has a special affinity for Roughriders pass catchers.

“I have a lot of especially ’Riders receivers that I look up to,” said Douglas. “Weston Dressler is definitely size wise is a good comparison to me.

“Other guys, I really liked Naaman Roosevelt growing up and guys like that. I think I’m definitely similar to their style of play. I think the coaches kind of use me in similar ways.”

In the Hilltops 50-2 regular season opening win against the Edmonton Wildcats on August 13 at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, Douglas got out of the gates with a big game. He caught nine passes for 171 yards and one touchdown, which helped him get an extra jump in his step.

“The coaches and Trey (Reider) made it easy for me,” said Douglas. “The coach was calling the right plays, and Trey (Reider) was just putting it on me, and I’m just trying to do my job and catch the balls that come my way.

“It was definitely huge for the confidence, and I think it was huge for the whole team getting that win early.”

Against the Thunder on Saturday, the Hilltops led 12-0 after the first quarter and 22-4 at halftime. The Hilltops got a touchdown from star power running back Boston Davidsen, two field goals from Teijon Abel-Douglas and a conceded safety by the Thunder.

The Thunder got their points from a punt single and a field goal from kicker Shawn Green and a conceded safety by Saskatoon.

Drake Douglas (#86) wants to enjoy more fun with his teammates.
The Hilltops return to action on Sunday, September 17, when they hit the road again to face the Edmonton Wildcats at Emerald Hills Regional Park in Sherwood Park, Alta.

Looking forward to the rest of the CJFL campaign, Douglas said he and the Hilltops are focusing on things as they come.

“It is great just hanging out with guys and getting to come out to practice every day and just work with everybody,” said Douglas. “I’m really excited for the rest of this season.

“We have a long way to go. I think we’re just trying to build every week. I think ‘Sarge’ compared it to a pyramid the one day in meetings.

“We’re just trying to build that pyramid and give it a good foundation right now and just keep building on that.”

Hilltops End Zone Dinner set for Sept. 30

Jorgen Hus sets to snap the ball for the Roughriders in 2019.
The Saskatoon Hilltops End Zone Dinner is returning with a quartet of guest speakers.

The End Zone Dinner is slated for Saturday, September 30 in the main hall of the Gordie Howe Sports Centre building on the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds. Doors for the dinner open at 4:15 p.m. and dinner follows at 5 p.m.

A ticket to the dinner also includes a ticket to that night’s CJFL regular season game between the Hilltops and Regina Thunder set for 7 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.

The guest speakers include a pair of alumni from the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders in Al Johns and Carm Carteri along with current Roughriders players Jorgen Hus and Derrick Moncrief. Johns was a defensive tackle for the Roughriders from 1980 to 1987 and played for the Hilltops in the 1970s. Carteri played linebacker for the Roughriders in 1979, 1980 and 1985, and he had a long run as a colour analyst on Roughriders radio broadcasts that concluded following the 2016 campaign.

Hus is the Roughriders veteran long snapper and he played linebacker with the Hilltops from 2007 to 2009. He helped the Hilltops win a CJFL title in 2007 after graduating from St. Joseph High School.

Moncrief is a veteran linebacker with the Roughriders. He often comes out to Saskatoon to help coach with Saskatoon Minor Football’s Playground To Pros Camp that is held annually in April.

All proceeds from the End Zone Dinner will go towards the Saskatoon Hilltops Scholarship Fund. Tickets are $100 per single person or $725 for a table of eight. Tickets for the End Zone Dinner can be purchased by clicking right here.

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