Friday 6 October 2023

“Sack Master” Kack anchors Hilltops defence

Riece Kack (#47) celebrates making a sack for the Hilltops.
Riece Kack’s best buds brought him to the Saskatoon Hilltops, and the storied CJFL team has reaped the rewards ever since.

Early in his Grade 12 year playing high school football with Saskatoon’s Centennial Collegiate Chargers in September of 2019, Kack committed to joining the University of Saskatchewan Huskies Football team in the U Sports ranks. The COVID-19 pandemic proceeded to grip the world in March of 2020, which ultimately changed the paths for a lot of athletes.

The defensive end lived through modified high school graduation festivities in June of 2020 and didn’t have a football season to look forward to in the fall of 2020. All football action for the Canada West Conference that the Huskies play out of was cancelled for 2020-21 and U Sports nixed its national championship football game – the Vanier Cup.

Due to pandemic restrictions, all football action was cancelled for the CJFL too.

While Kack was playing out his Grade 12 season in the fall of 2019 before the world was flipped upside down, his best friends in linebacker Wade Keating and defensive back Carter Wingert were playing through their rookie campaigns with the Hilltops, who went 12-0 and won a sixth straight CJFL title.

With everything having come to a stop, Keating and Wingert made sales pitches to Kack to come join the Hilltops.

“My two best buddies in Carter Wingert and Wade Keating they had played on Centennial with me, and they were a year older than me,” said Kack. “They were already here.

“They kind of told me they said, ‘Yeah, we have some open spots.’ I decided I wanted to come play some Hilltop football. It has been just a great blessing since.

Riece Kack (#47) takes down a quarterback for the Hilltops.
“It has been the three best years of my life.”

After recording a pair of sacks in eight regular season games with the Hilltops in 2021, Kack had a breakout year in his second campaign with the team in 2022. He topped the PFC with 7.5 sacks during the regular season to go along with 25.5 total tackles, one interception and one fumble recovery. Kack was named a first team PFC all-star and a first team CJFL all-Canadian all-star.

With one regular season game to play in the 2023 campaign, Kack again finds himself leading the PFC in sacks having matched his total from the previous year with 7.5 sacks. He holds a sizable lead over Regina Thunder linebacker Kenten Effa and Edmonton Huskies defensive lineman Kaiden Edey, who sit tied for second in the PFC with four sacks.

The Hilltops (7-0) close their regular season on Sunday hosting the Winnipeg Rifles (2-5) at 1 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. To go along with his 7.5 sacks, Kack has 18.5 total tackles, two fumble recoveries and one pass knockdown.

“It has been a lot of fun the last two years for sure,” said Kack, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 230 pounds. “I know in my first year I was off to a slow start and didn’t get my first sacks until the last game of the year in Winnipeg.

“I ended up getting two that game. It has kind of just been motivation for me since then just to keep coming out and getting them. It is lots of fun when I get to the quarterback.

“This year for sure there have been a lot of coverage sacks. The DBs have been helping me out. That is a credit to our great DBs and coaching as well.”

Legendary Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant said Kack has been a big time player for the club for a length stretch now.

Riece Kack is leading the PFC with 7.5 quarterback sacks.
“Riece is a great leader,” said Sargeant. “He is a great player.

“He is a natural playmaker. He knows how to get to the ball. He knows where the ball is.

“He’s got that uncanny ability that you don’t coach. He’s been a real pleasure to coach this year. It has been fun to see him perform at such a high level and be a big part of this defensive success.”

Sargeant said Kack does so many things well as a defensive end, and you could see the now 21-year-old pass rusher could potentially be special watching him during his days in high school.

“He was high end player in high school,” said Sargeant. “I’ve always thought he was an even front player – a four man front, so he goes against the (offensive) tackle.

“He has a good repertoire of moves. He’s got a burst. He’s got power, and he’s got a motor that doesn’t quit.

“That is the biggest part about Riece is he plays every play as hard as he can. When it is all said and done, you always see him around the football.”

The sideline boss adds Kack is one of the main guys who gets the Hilltops jacked up for game day.

“He’s the energy guy,” said Sargeant. “He’s the guy going around talking with people and connecting with people, bring the juice and bringing the energy.

“In the Thursday night practice, he is always the most vocal and getting every juiced up and charged up. That is a real natural ability of his is to just be a great team guy. The players love him, and they rally around him.

Riece Kack (#47) is a cornerstone player on the Hilltops defence.
“He is a big time leader for us. When you see us huddle up before the game, it is Riece (Kack) in the middle talking to the football team. He’s been a real pulse and a real pleasure to be around and to coach.”

Kack’s motivation to play well for the Hilltops is also increased due to the fact he considers the biggest influences in helping him along in the game all have connections to the team. They include Sargeant, defensive line coach Dave Fisher and Hilltops defensive end alum, U of S Huskies alum, step brother and long snapper of the CFL’s British Columbia Lions Riley Pickett.

“‘Sarge’ has been a great coach for me, and Fish (Dave Fisher) every day just brings a good spark to the D-line,” said Kack. “Obviously, I look up to my brother Riley Pickett to what he was able to do here.

“There are lots of people I take inspiration from.”

The standout defensive end said the work of the rest of the Hilltops defensive line has allowed him to pile up the sacks he has. The Hilltops have cycled through a number of players on their D-line who have all made plays including Craig Torgerson, Ben Marce, Kai Kukurudza, Johnathon Stevens and Nahom Menghestab.

“They (the opponents) don’t know who to block on any given down to be honest,” said Kack. “They can’t commit to over blocking any of us.

“It has been a big contributing factor for sure. Sometimes if you’re getting lots of pressure, they’ll put two or three guys on you and open up someone else just for a single team. They can’t do that this year, because we’re just having tremendous pressure from everyone.

“It has been awesome.”

Riece Kack (#47) enjoys the havoc the Hilltops D-line creates.
Kack believes the Hilltops have done a good job with staying focused on the present this season. With that noted, he said it feels like this upcoming final regular season game against the Rifles came fast and following that contest will be playoffs. He is looking forward to getting to the post-season chase.

“It is crazy how quick it flies by to be honest,” said Kack. “It feels like it was Week 1 yesterday.

“The season moves quick, and I guess we have the back stretch here. If we make it all the way, it is four or five more games. Definitely, our best football is yet to come.

“It is crazy that it is already playoff time. I’m excited for sure.”

Hilltops’ Gedir tabbed as player of the week

Noah Gedir (#36) was the PFC’s defensive player of the week.
Noah Gedir piled up the tackles in the rain resulting in an individual award coming his way.

On Wednesday, the Saskatoon Hilltops weak side linebacker was named the Prairie Football Conference’s defensive player of the week. Gedir picked up that honour for his performance this past Saturday making seven defensive solo tackles, five defensive tackle assists and one special teams tackle playing in a steady rain helping the Hilltops down their provincial rivals the Regina Thunder 19-10.

The 21-year-old Gedir leads the Hilltops with 73 defensive points coming on 17 solo defensive tackles, 10 defensive tackle assists, nine special teams solo tackles, one quarterback sack, two pass knockdowns, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

Edmonton Wildcats receiver Travis Heggart was named the PFC’s offensive player of the week on Wednesday for his performance in helping his team outgun the visiting Calgary Colts 43-36 at Emerald Hills Regional Park in Sherwood Park, Alta. In helping the Wildcats get their first win of the season, Heggart caught six passes for 149 yards and four touchdowns.

Wildcats kick returner Breyan Elias took honours as the PFC’s special teams player of the week for his huge performance in that Wildcats win over the Colts. He returned three kickoffs for 217 yards. Elias returned the opening kickoff of the third quarter 92 yards for a touchdown and ran back another kickoff later in the frame 100 yards for a touchdown.

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