Category: Features

Everything you need to know about Team Manitoba’s senior men’s flag team

By: Mike Still (@mikestill94)

Last year, Team Manitoba’s senior men’s flag team was near unstoppable. They rolled through their first two games at nationals, outscoring their opponents 90-0 before eventually topping a Team Canada squad that included former CFL players Chris Bauman and Chris Getzlaf. 

With that in mind, it’s not surprising that head coach Mike Laping – who has over two decades of experience in the sport – has high expectations for the defending national champs, who will enter this year’s tournament in Saskatoon as Team Canada. 

“We really have to win again this year,” he says passionately. 

“We’re really looking forward to it. I think all the guys bought in on it last year. The changes we had to make were more logistical more than a player not fitting in. We just added to what I learned from nationals last year and seeing what the other teams do, because every province seems to do things a little differently.”

As noted by Laping, there are a few adjustments being made to this year’s roster, including the addition of receivers Billy Matwichyna, Noah Dornn, and Michael Goldenstein and defensive back Shae Weekes, all of the Manitoba Bisons. The quartet will join Riley Harrison and Jamie Ybarra Jr., each of whom were on the roster for both the Bisons and Laping last season. 

“As a coach, I can tell you that I’m always looking at learning more. And I like the young guys here because I can pick their brains too. They bring so much to the table and are knowledgeable, otherwise they wouldn’t be playing university football, so it’s invaluable to the team to have them,” Laping says of the Bison connection. 

“It makes my life a lot easier when you’ve got kids who want to play hard, but you can ask a question and they always have an intelligent answer for you, which I like, because they understand the game so well.”

Of the above mentiond group, Ybarra Jr. stands out, both from his performance at the national tournament last year – where he was named to Team Canada’s World Flag Football Championships roster – as well as his long-term connection to Laping. 

“I love Jamie. I think everybody knows Jamie’s my favourite. You’re not supposed to have favourites, but he is,” the head coach says. 

“I met Jamie when he was in high school at St. Paul’s and honestly when I first saw him I didn’t like him. And just the way he acts and does things, it’s impossible not to like him for long. He’s just an awesome kid. Then on the football field he’s just smart and so athletic. Even when he seems to be wrong, he ends up being right. He’s one of those kinds of guys. Everybody on the team loves him.” 

The other player who earned a nod to Team Canada’s Worlds roster last year was defensive MVP Julian Banares, a humble and hard-working athlete who also shone as a receiver for the Winnipeg Rifles in the past. He’ll be the team’s defensive captain. 

He just works,” Laping says. 

“He can flag so well, he can cover anybody on the field. Man, zone you name it. He makes all the calls on the field, he does everything on the field and doesn’t need any help. He’s just a special guy.”

Captaining the offensive side of the ball will be returning centre Keith Bourgeois, who Laping describes as “one of the most fundamentally sound snappers in Canada.”

“He’s got to snap the ball back, sometimes 12-15 yards on a rope and then get down field and get open. Keith’s special at that. He also catches everything. He’s probably one of the best catching centres in Canada, and once he catches the ball he’s pretty hard to flag, so he’s dynamic at that spot.”

Manning the pivot position will be PIT football co-founder Jon Franklin, who brings over three decades of experience to the game. 

“Really on this size of a football field, there is not a better quarterback,” says Laping. 

“He’s smart, he can adjust well, he can throw the ball into tighter windows. I’ve known Jon and played personally with and against him for well over 15 years and in that time span he’s just gotten continually better.”

Rounding out the roster are four veteran players who have a deep-rooted passion for touch and flag football and that Laping has gotten to know quite well over the years. 

Rusher Brandon Labonte is “a track star who’s just so fast,” Kurt Yakimoski is “easily the best flagger in Canada,” Justin Stewart is a “tough kid who’s a ride-or-die player,” and Jeff Draper is a big-bodied 6’7” corner and slot receiver who is “athletic and quicker than you think for being that size.”

Laping’s squad will play in the mandatory Canadian Flag Football League and will also compete at western regionals, taking place from May 18-20 in Winnipeg. They will then move on to nationals in Saskatoon from July 26-28, looking to defend their title against teams from Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. 

The cost to head to nationals is roughly $7000 and Laping and company are looking for any help sponsorship or finance-wise as the team prepares to defend their title.  For more information, please email Mike at

Taylor brings mentorship, proven success to Wolfpack

By: Mike Still (@mikestill94)

Feature photo: Taylor (third from left) as part of Team Manitoba’s U16 staff this past summer.

The Winnipeg Wolfpack women’s tackle football team will have a new head coach steering the ship this season, in Aaron Taylor. 

The former WHSFL champ as a defensive back with Kelvin brings close to two decades of coaching experience with him, ranging all the way from the U16 provincial team to the junior football ranks with the Winnipeg Rifles. 

Taylor has been a coach for the provincial team on eight different occasions. He began with the U19 age group (now U18) but found his niche over the past few years with the U16 squad, including bringing home multiple silver medals as a part of well-respected head coach Jeff Ready’s defensive staff.  

“I found with U16, it’s more of the base builder,” he says. “You get to teach the mechanics and then prep the players to go up to U18 where they can learn more of the x’s and o’s.”

Taylor spent the 2013 season as the defensive backs coach for Dakota, moving onto Ryan Karhut’s Rifles staff the next year. It was in this position where he had the unique opportunity to teach the receivers the game from a defensive back’s perspective. 

The roster was loaded with top-level talent, including one of the best in program history in Kurt Goodrich and Niclas Bembenek – who both finished in the top three in receiving yards that year. Taylor was also responsible for helping current McMaster receiver Xander Tachinski make the transition from quarterback. 

“It was a good year. We had unreal athletes. I think it was just about working on the mental aspect of the game – I didn’t have to teach athleticism.”

The following year, Taylor took over as head coach of the East Side Eagles major junior program, leading the squad to an undefeated league championship. The program also received that year’s Coaching Staff of the Year award. 

When asked about his experience at the major junior level, Taylor was quick to bring up the mentorship program that he started at East Side, where he would bring all the younger Eagles athletes – from the cruncher to bantam levels – to practice so that his players could help coach them. 

“You take the little guys and tell them to run into that big guy as hard as you can and that little guy, he might be scared to hit, but once he hits that big guy and feels no pain and maybe knocks him over, then that changes their mindset in football going forward,” he says with a smile. 

“And for the older guys, they’re scared to coach the little kids, but then half an hour into the practice all of a sudden you see one of the guys has a little kid on his shoulder running around the field with him and has a bigger smile than the little kid. It kind of switches in their mind that maybe I can be a coach when I’m done playing football.”

Taylor then spent 2016-17 with the North Winnipeg Nomads as head coach and director of football operations, where he helped to revive their major junior team. His passion for the majors age group is rooted in his ability to help build a base for players who may want to play junior or university at some point. 

“Guys that weren’t ready for university or junior, I was trying to get them to come from high school and play a year or two of majors,” he says passionately. 

“You’re playing against that 22-year-old athlete that’s been in the gym for a while, and you know what, if you want to leave majors and play junior, go ahead. Go at 20 years old and play three years of junior. So I was trying to help players make that transition.”

Last year, Taylor worked behind the scenes supporting the Wolfpack. He had been introduced to the team during his time with the Nomads, as the squad used their field to practice. In the offseason, the program decided to make a head coaching change and he was approached to take over. 

“I thought, I have a big enough base of friends who are coaches, I’m going to see what I can do. It’s their offseason from high school and they can’t enough football as it is. So if I could bring them out in the winter/spring, I might be able to put something together.”

Taylor noted that one of the biggest challenges when he came in was recruiting enough players, as the Wolfpack had to fold their last two games last season due to not having enough numbers as a result of injuries. But it doesn’t sound like that will be a problem any longer, as the team immediately bought into what the head coach was selling. 

“We had a meeting right off the hop with all the veterans where I explained to them my coaching style and expectations. All I saw was smiles in the room from the 20 players. They were like yeah, you know what, we can make this happen. 

Really the players went out and found all the other players we have now. The veterans are really buying in and the next 2-3 months are going to be really exciting.”

Just under 50 players showed up to the team’s first group workout in early January, 32 of which are rookies to the Western Women’s Canadian Football League (WWCFL). Taylor says he’s excited for what this season holds, emphasizing that the x’s and o’s of the game will be a major priority. 

“What we want to do is max out the mental part of the game for them, and then the only thing they’re limited by is their physical ability, and you can work on that. If we can load their brain with knowing the game, that’s half the battle.”

Lloyd brings fierce competitiveness to Bisons receiving corps

By: Mike Still (@mikestill94)

Feature photo: Vaughan Lloyd shortly after signing with Manitoba.

Vaughan Lloyd knows a thing or two about how to adapt and thrive on the football field.

For example, Lloyd — a running back since his community football days with the Fort Garry Lions — was forced to sit out his grade 11 season with Vincent Massey after transferring from St. Paul’s. Instead of feeling sad for himself though, he chose to take mental notes on his opponents by “just watching the game and seeing what people did well and didn’t do well and adding it to my game.”

When Lloyd’s senior year rolled around, a new challenge was thrown his way. Former Midget Football League of Manitoba Offensive Player of the Year Breydon Stubbs was brought into the fold at running back and naturally, only one player would get the spot.

Lloyd was fully ready to compete with Stubbs for starting time. The two went back-and-forth in the spring before Massey head coach Kelsey McKay made an executive decision on the first day of summer camp, moving the former to slotback.

Interestingly, this wasn’t the first time Lloyd was shifted to the position.

“In U16 when coach [Kelsey] McKay was the head coach, he actually moved me to slot then,” he says.

“When I was younger, I was more nervous about a suicide ball or just trusting the quarterback to get me the ball versus just being handed the ball at running back. But especially this year with [senior quarterback] Jackson [Tachinski], who I’ve played a lot of football with over the years, we have a really good relationship and I know the throws he can make and how good he is. It made playing slot this year a lot more fun.”

Lloyd’s first week at slotback in his senior year against Oak Park offered a tantalizing taste of what was to come. He demonstrated his speed and route-running abilities, hauling in two receptions for 96 yards, with both grabs going for touchdowns.

“After the Oak Park game the first game of the season I thought the season was going to be something special for me. That game was when I really knew that slotback would be fun.”

The following week against Massey Brandon, Lloyd continued with his impressive yards per catch average, going off for 160 yards on four receptions, with three resulting in majors.

Two weeks into the season, it appeared that the converted running back was primed for a record-breaking year. But the following week, tragedy struck.

Lloyd was throwing the ball around with some of his teammates before practice like he usually did, when his knee gave out while he was trying to break on a ball.

“At first I wasn’t really sure what happened, because I’ve had multiple injuries to this knee before so I didn’t think it was much of a concern,” he says. “I ended up getting an MRI done, went to some doctors and that was it.”

Lloyd was diagnosed with a fully torn ACL and meniscus, seriously de-railing the momentum he had created just a few weeks ago. But instead of accepting the injury, he chose to fight through it. That week’s contest was against St. Paul’s and there was no way he was going to miss a rivalry game against Division 1’s perennial powerhouse.

He wore a soft-shell brace for the matchup, recording two receptions for 27 yards while noting that he didn’t feel the injury that much, despite it occurring less than a week prior.

But the following week against Dakota, Lloyd was given a different type of brace by the doctor that essentially made it feel like he was playing on the injury with no protection. He had one reception in the contest before sitting out the next month.

He returned to the lineup in memorable fashion in the Division 1 ANAVETS Bowl against St. Paul’s, producing countless big-time plays in both the run and pass game as Massey won 28-25.

“To be completely honest, I didn’t really think about it,” Lloyd says of playing with a severe knee injury.

“Personally I think it was the amount of rest I had. I basically sat out the next 3-4 weeks and all the coaches thought my season was over. I’m honestly very happy with the game I played and how I performed.”

Lloyd will have a chance to continue his legacy in 2019 with the Manitoba Bisons, a team he committed to last October. He’s particularly excited to line up with some fellow Division 1 alumni who are a few years his elder.

“I’m really excited to play with Shae Weekes (St. Paul’s) , Brody Williams (St. Paul’s), Abdul Gassama (Massey) and Brayden Saville (Massey). When I was in grade nine, these were all guys that I looked up to and trained with. I never thought I’d be anywhere close to them and now It’s crazy to think that I’m right up there with them, so that’s exciting.”

Recruiting 101 with Ryan Karhut: How do scholarships work?

A big part of the recruitment process and decision making is often scholarship offers. But should that be a deciding factor? Let’s dive into how they work and try to make sense of the numbers.

Athletic Financial Award

First, let’s look at it from the school’s perspective. Schools can offer prospective student athletes what is known as an Athletic Financial Award (AFA). This award can cover tuition and fees. They CANNOT cover things like living expenses, meal plans, etc. U SPORTS teams can have a roster with a maximum of 110 players (most don’t carry more than 90) however, only 33.6 ‘full scholarships’ are handed out each and every year. That does not mean schools can give out that many to incoming freshmen though. This means each season, they can only give out this many to their entire roster.

Schools can, however ‘break’ these scholarships up and give out partial scholarships. For example, I could give Billy and Tommy each half their tuition and fees, and that would count as one AFA of my teams 33.6. Think of this more as a salary cap and each year the team looks to spend it but stay under the threshold. This is why partial and incentive driven scholarships are very common.

To qualify, you need to not only be good at football, but also in the classroom. In the Canada West conference you need a 65% average (based on grade 12 entrance classes) to qualify for a scholarship. In the Ontario conference, however, you actually need an 80% average to qualify. Now, let’s say you are offered an AFA, accept it, and qualify for it. You need to know that only gets you through the first year. You need to re-qualify for it, academically, each and every year. So in Canada West, you need to successfully complete 18-credit hours (which equates to six half year courses or three full year courses) and have a 2.0 GPA, which is a C average.

Qualifications for scholarships

Another scenario would have you doing six half year courses and getting an F, B, B+, C, B, and an A. This means your GPA is 2.58 so you can qualify for a scholarship, however, you did not successfully complete 18-credit hours so you are now ineligible to compete for the football team next season. So all of this is to remind you that getting a scholarship is not the end of working hard. It is in fact just the beginning of your journey. Additionally, if you’d like to take out a student loan, you will also need to meet the above requirements.

Say you finish your 18-credit hours but you actually attempted 21. You earned an F, C, C, C, C, C+, and a B in those classes. This gives you 18-credit hours complete, so you can compete next year in U SPORTS but it gives you a GPA of 1.93 meaning you will not qualify for your scholarship. You can earn it back the year after by re-establishing a 2.0 GPA and again 18-credit hours completed.

In closing, scholarships are very fluid as head coaches are managing a roster of usually 90 players on it. Some players simply will not qualify for a scholarship academically meaning teams may end up with extra money they can give out. Also, it is common place for a student-athlete’s scholarship amounts to adjust year-to-year. Often players do not get full scholarships in year one but will have a full scholarship in years four and five. As you grow as a student, an athlete, a leader and a teammate, your value unquestionably will rise and teams will reward that.

Do note as well that I have never seen a scholarship ‘taken’ from a student-athlete because of injury. The only situations I have seen scholarships be removed from student-athletes is when they do not qualify academically or when they have broken team or league rules (doping, missing team functions, etc).

Well-traveled Smith brings plenty of experience to Bisons

By: Mike Still (@mikestill94)

Feature photo by: Kadeem Thomas

The Manitoba Bisons linebacking corps will be enhanced in 2019 thanks to the addition of Whitby, ON native Andrew Smith. 

The 5’8”, 220-pound wrecking machine comes to Manitoba with quite the resume already in his football career. He was a standout on both sides of the ball from grades 9-11 with the Donald A. Wilson Gators, including scoring five rushing touchdowns in the Lake Ontario Secondary School Athletics (LOSSA) Tier 1 championship game. He was honoured at game’s end as both the contest and overall league MVP.

But that was just the start for Smith. Shortly after his junior year in 2012, he received an email from IMG Academy, a boarding school in Bradenton, Florida that offers an integrated academic and college preparatory experience across eight sports – one of which is football. The academy has produced 140 NCAA Division 1 commits since its inaugural season in 2013 – the year Smith was on the team – and is widely regarded as having one of the nation’s best high school football facilities.  

“They kind of reached out to me and said ‘this is IMG Academy,’ and at my first my dad and I were like wait, what the heck is this, is this a joke,” Smith says.

“So then we were looking and up and were like oh my God, this is legit.”

The timing couldn’t have been better, as Donald A Wilson was in the middle of a strike and the football program was likely going to be cancelled for Smith’s senior year. So instead of waiting for the bad news, he packed up and headed to IMG for the second semester of his grade 11 year in order to be better accustomed to his surroundings.

The academy’s inaugural coach was former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL pivot Chris Weinke and the athletes came from all over the world, including England and Mexico. Smith was also joined by a fellow Canadian, in Vanier Cup-winning quarterback Michael O’Connor.

“I loved bugging him. He’s a great guy,” Smith says of his former teammate. “I was kind of hoping we have him on the map this year, because I always used to have to stop before hitting him in practice.”

The daily grind for Smith was different than what he was used to, as athletes went to school from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and then spent the entire afternoon and early evening studying and practicing only football. Schedule-wise, the team played a minimum of ten games against some of the top teams in the country.

Arguably the biggest adjustment Smith had to make in his lone season at IMG revolved around his position. He was originally brought in to play running back, however just before camp started, the squad got a new addition: current Seattle Seahawks running back Bo Scarbrough. His recruitment put Smith’s chances of seeing action in the backfield in doubt, so the team’s defensive coordinator came to him and told him he’d be switched to linebacker, in order to get field time.

Smith jumped at the idea, putting 20 pounds of muscle onto his then 180-pound frame and went to work. He was all over the place for IMG, leading the team in tackles while also being named to the All-State team. He was also named the team’s defensive MVP.

“It was an awesome experience,” he says of his time in Florida. “The facilities were unreal. It beats some of the D1 schools honestly – especially now. Now it’s unbelievable but even back then it was eye-opening.”

Once Smith was done in school, he had to decide if he wanted to come back home for university or stay in the states. He chose the former, committing to the StFX X-Men for the 2014 season.

“Just because we were a first-year program, it almost felt like scouts didn’t know enough about it. Don’t get me wrong, we’d have a bunch of top D1 schools coming to our practices and everything which is awesome to see, but I don’t think a lot of the kids got the looks they wanted,” he says.

“I would have loved to go to a D1 school, but I didn’t get the looks that I actually wanted. I didn’t want to settle for something that I’m not happy with when I could go to Canada and be closer to home. It was also cheaper money-wise.”

Smith inserted himself into the lineup immediately at StFX, finishing the year with 28 tackles, a sack, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. He wasn’t enjoying himself as a student however and opted to re-evaluated his options, sitting out the 2015 season due to transfer rules.

He then spent the following two years with the York Lions in the OUA, where he started every game and was second on the team in tackles both seasons, with 79 total. He also received the squad’s inaugural Academic Grit Award for study hall excellence.

There were some coaching changes after the 2017 season though, and Smith decided it would be best to finish out his final two years at a different school.

Cue Manitoba. The Bisons staff already had a York connection, as special teams coordinator/running backs coach Ryan Karhut was on staff while Smith was there. The two formed a great bond and this led to Smith taking a visit to campus in November, committing shortly afterwards.

“I’m a huge fan [of Smith],” says Karhut. “He’s a great kid and a legit playmaker at the linebacker spot.”

The hulking member of the front seven is already enrolled on campus, with the hopes of finishing his environmental studies degree and also being named an All-Canadian. On the field, his goal is much simpler.

“First, I just want to make a statement. I want to come in, do what I can do and work hard.”

The top moments from Manitoba amateur football

By: Mike Still (@mikestill94)

Feature photo: River East Kodiaks defenders Jo-Jo Funk-Clements and Kian Crampton make a play on Kelvin receiver Cooper Dawson earlier this year. Their run to the CTV Bowl ranks as the number two moment in Manitoba football this year.

It was another stellar year of amateur football in the province of Manitoba in 2018. Whether it be individual performances, team performances or simply acts of good deed, there’s no denying that plenty of memories were made. Below I’ve listed 11 of the top moments. Please note that this list is entirely subjective and while the items are listed 1-11, that doesn’t necessarily mean there is a hierarchy here.

Oh and a special shoutout to those that didn’t make the list but also had memorable campaigns, such as the ANAVETS and HomeRun Bowl champion Vincent Massey WPG Trojans and the RMFL champion Interlake Thunder, who each capped off undefeated seasons in memorable fashion, running back Alex Taylor, who became Western’s all-time leading rusher, as well as Jeff Ready’s Team Manitoba U16 squad, which earned a silver medal at the Western Challenge.

11. Rifles D picks off six against Calgary

While the 2018 season in the Prairie Football Conference (PFC) didn’t go as well as the Winnipeg Rifles had planned, there’s no denying that their defence was one of the best in the conference all year.

The group led the PFC in interceptions with 18 — six more than any other team — while also scoring two majors. One of the best examples of Winnipeg’s D flexing their muscles occurred on Sept. 30 at home against the Calgary Colts. The Rifles romped to a 39-6 win, thanks in large part to six interceptions, three of which came from University of Manitoba transfer Keenan Onyebuchi. 

With players such as Mike Hart (LB), Machuor Akau (DE), Cole Sneesby (LB), Jake Richardson (DB), Troy Wilson (DB) and 2018 PFC All-Star Justin Kwiatkowski all likely to be back in 2019, the Rifles defence should once again be one of the top units in the conference. 

10. Lalama spends shoulder rehab coaching in Winnipeg

A training camp shoulder injury to Montreal Alouettes linebacker DJ Lalama forced him out of the lineup and under the knife to undergo surgery. The sixth-month recovery time resulted in him missing the entire CFL season, but instead of getting down on himself, he opted to direct his focus to the next generation of local talent.

The former Manitoba Bison and St. Paul’s Crusaders standout chose to do his rehab back in Winnipeg and while at home, he also decided to help coach at his former high school. With his assistance, the Crusaders churned out one of the most feared linebacking corps in the WHSFL, in senior Tyler Grom, junior Nathan Carabatsakis and sophomore Nic Pereira. The trio combined for 45 tackles, four sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles as the Crusders returned to the ANAVETS Bowl. Pereira was also honoured at year’s end as the Division 1 Rookie of the Year. 

9. Banares and Ybarra Jr. rep Canada at World Flag Football Championships

It was a memorable 2018 flag campaign for Julian Banares and Jamie Ybarra Jr. The duo were part of a Team Manitoba roster that captured gold in May at senior men’s flag football nationals in Saskatoon. Among the competition was a Team Canada roster that included Chris Bauman, the first overall pick in the 2007 CFL draft, as well as former Grey Cup champ Chris Getzlaf.

Both players earned a trip to Panama to don the red and white at the World Flag Football Championships due to their performances, with Banares also being named defensive MVP at the Saskatoon tourney. The duo picked up a few critical wins during the world championships, including one against host Panama, before falling to Austria in a tight quarterfinal battle, 31-26.

Ybarra Jr. wouldn’t stop there however. Not long after his Panama experience, he was back in the pads as the Manitoba Bisons needed his services due to a training camp injury to one of their quarterback recruits. He would later go on to throw for 396 yards and two scores in his U SPORTS debut against No. 10 UBC in the final week of the 2018 Canada West conference regular season. You can read more about Jamie’s personal story here and Julian’s here.

Banares after receiving individual recognition.

8. Team Manitoba medals in every event at flag football nationals 

Team ‘Toba has proven year after year that they are one of the most dominant provinces when it comes to flag football and 2018 was no different. Along with the gold from the senior men’s team, our U16 and U18 male and female teams also each came home with hardware during their trip to Halifax for nationals in August.

The U16 female team earned bronze while the U16 male squad brought home a silver. In U18 action, the females came back with bronze, while the males ran the table to earn gold.

The U18 male squad was also littered with players who went on to have tremendous seasons in the WHSFL, including CTV Bowl champ Jo-Jo Funk-Clements (RB/DB) and ANAVETS Bowl champs Jackson Tachinski (QB), Teagan Simon (DB), Vaughn Lloyd (SB), Keyshawn Gaskin (DB) and Brandon Kamenz (DB).

Additionally, PIT football co-founder Jon Franklin was part of the male U18 coaching staff, and a total of 26 players spread out between the national team and U18 squads participated in the PIT in 2018, demonstrating its value at the national level.

7. Schrot caps off U SPORTS career in style 

Receiver Dylan Schrot knows a thing or two about overcoming adversity.

Just a few seasons ago, his football future looked uncertain. In 2015 while playing in junior, he tore his ACL and was staring down a long recovery process. But instead of getting down on himself, he got a job as a personal trainer, which helped him learn how to take care of the body and ensure an injury of that magnitude didn’t happen again. He was back the following year and was named an All-Canadian with the Calgary Colts.

His play earned him a spot with the Manitoba Bisons for 2017, however the year didn’t go as planned as he pulled his hamstring and struggled to get back to 100 percent. But again, he didn’t get down on himself. Instead, the mature receiver focused on sports psychology, trained hard and was back in the lineup for his final year of U SPORTS eligibility in 2018, where he was an integral part of Manitoba’s stellar aerial attack.

Schrot’s 49 receptions and 788 yards both placed him in the top three in program history and he was also named a Canada West All-Star at season’s end. Click here to read more about Schrot.

6. Barnsdale breaks WHSFL Division 3 fumble recoveries record, ties single-game mark for tackles, fumble recoveries 

The 2018 WHSFL season is one that William Barnsdale won’t soon forget. The numbers he put up on defence were simply astounding, including tying the Division 3 record for tackles in a game, with 20 against CanadInns Bowl finalist Elmwood. He also set a new division record for fumble recoveries in a season, with seven — three of which came against Lorette in mid September.

Barnsdale was a critical part of a Bulldogs team that nearly upset St. John’s in the semi-finals, falling just short 11-7. He racked up over 40 tackles while also contributing close to 300 yards as a running back in the final few weeks of the regular season and was honoured at year’s end as the Division 3 Elite Performance Centre Defensive Player of the Year.

Barnsdale after winning the DPOY award for Div 3.

5. Nachtigall sets new WHSFL Division 2 passing yards, attempts records 

It’s not easy stepping out of the shadows of Dayton Black, however that’s exactly what quarterback Evan Nachtigall did this year for Neelin. In the process, he broke two records set by last year’s Division 2 Offensive Player of Year, putting up a record 234 passes for a new division 2 high of 1985 yards.

The gunslinger was honoured for his work as the second straight player from the Spartans to win the Elite Performance Offensive Player of the Year award and third in a row from a Brandon school after Mack Adams from Massey Brandon took home the trophy in 2016.

“It really started in grade nine when I came into Neelin being a backup behind Dayton and taking second team reps every practice, and even the odd one in-game, especially last year in the playoffs against Kelvin,” said Nachtigall.

“The offseason was really about throwing a lot of balls and getting my arm ready for my first year starting at quarterback.”

Nachtigall after winning the Div 2 OPOY award.

4. Bujalski selected to OUA All-Rookie team at McMaster

The McMaster Marauders have quickly began to assemble quite the contingent of Manitoba talent. There are currently eight players from the 204 on their roster, including pivot Andreas Dueck (Vincent Massey WPG), receiver Xander Tachinski (St. Paul’s/Winnipeg Rifles) and linebacker Eryk Bujalski (Vincent Massey WPG) — the final of whom earned All-Rookie honours after collecting 28 tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery this past year.

Bujalski, a true freshman, suited up in all eight contests for the Marauders and was the squad’s fifth-leading tackler while manning the middle. The former standout for Team Canada has a bright future ahead and is sure to make more waves come 2019.

3. Oliveira wraps up final season at UND in style 

At a young age, it was obvious that running back Brady Oliveira was going to be something big. The former North Winnipeg Nomads star towered over his competition, parlaying his successful minor football days into a stellar run in high school with both Canada Prep Football Academy as well as the Oak Park Raiders. His senior season with the Raiders was something to behold, as he broke the WHSFL Division 1 record for rushing yards in a season, with 1,723 in seven games as well as rushing touchdowns, with 26.

Oliveira then continued his dominance down south with NCAA Division 1’s UND, forming an immediately dangerous 1-2 combo with Minnesota native John Santiago. Affectionally nicknamed the “Manitoba Moose,” due to his punishing 5’10,” 220-pound frame, he’s had a stellar four-year run with the Fighting Hawks. His 2,822 career yards puts him seventh all-time in program history, with 936 of those yards coming during a strong 2018 campaign.

Oliveira now looks to the future and the NFL and CFL drafts. The Fighting Hawks have had 31 NFL teams either come to a practice or watch the team play this year, along with six CFL teams and the bruising back is sure to be on some of those squad’s wish lists. He was also placed as the top ranked running back in the CFL’s first scouting bureau ranking list in late August.

2. Rookie head coach Sean Oleksewycz leads Kodiaks to first varsity title in 21 years

The River East Kodiaks finally got the monkey off their back in 2018, capturing Division 2’s CTV Bowl following a 22-14 win over Kelvin. It was the school’s first varsity title since 1997, with first-year bench boss Sean Oleksewycz and Bison commit Sammy Hezekiah helping to lead the way.

The duo have been closer than family ever since Hezekiah came to River East in grade nine. Originally a running back, it was Oleksewycz — the defensive coordinator for the Kodiaks at the time — who convinced Hezekiah to try his luck on the defensive side of the ball. That suggestion paid off, as the Nigeria native, who was the Bomber Alumni Most Outstanding Player for Division 2, recorded the game-winning pick six to help his squad come back from a 14-13 second half deficit. He also added a forced fumble on defence, as well as over 200 all-purpose yards via the ground and air at the pivot position on route to being named the game’s MVP.

While Hezekiah was the difference-maker on many an occasion, he certainly had some help as well, with players such as Ethan Topping — the Division 2 Elite Performance Centre Defensive Player of the Year — as well as JoJo Funk-Clements, Joshua Desjarlias, Spenser Pilon, Rylan Griffiths, Landon Colburn and Owen Unrau, among others, all coming up clutch in various situations throughout the year.

1. St. John’s Tigers win first title since 1980, play in honour of fallen teammate

The St. John’s Tigers had Jordan Thomas on their mind when they went into battle with the Elmwood Giants for Division 3 supremacy at Investors Group Field in early November.

The former QB, who helped lead the Tigers to their last championship game two years ago, was murdered during his senior year in December of 2017. The team played in his honour, winning a hard-fought 13-10 contest in the snow for their first title since 1980. After the game, St. John’s head coach Grant McMillan laid down the former three-sport star’s jersey (#7) in front of the CanadInns trophy for the squad’s photo.

“It was about honouring him and the players who have come before us,” McMillan said in an emotional postgame interview. “This victory is bigger than the team and bigger than the school. It’s a celebration for our community.”

It’s difficult to think of a story bigger than this one in 2018, as it transcended football. It was a clear example of the coming together of community for a common cause and hands down the most emotional moment I’ve ever had the pleasure of covering.

Game MVP Asher Wood deserves some love for his performance as well, as the Bomber Alumni Most Outstanding Player for Division 3 caught a touchdown, kicked the game-winning field goal and also had the game-ending pass breakup.

St. John’s Tigers head coach Grant McMIllan lays down the jersey of Jordan Thomas (#7) for the team’s championship photo. The former high school pivot was slain in December of 2017.

Recruiting 101 with Ryan Karhut: The signing process, provincial teams and more!

So your highlight tape is now completed and sent out. Some schools are calling, some email, texting, etc. It’s December and you are unsure of what to do next. Should I be playing 7 on 7? What about provincial teams? Will coach love it or hate it if I play another sport in the offseason? If I’m grade 12 and committed to a school, should I just focus on training? Should I hire an outside recruiting agency to help me get noticed by a school?

These are all questions we get asked all the time by recruits and players who have signed. They are all legitimate concerns and for young athletes. Let’s work through them and answer them for you from a college football coach’s perspective.

The signing process 

First of all, in the NCAA there is a ‘signing day’ in which everyone has to sign their letter of intent (LOI) on. Thus, making the recruiting process more frantic as their is a distinct end date they are working towards. In U SPORTS there is no signing day. Athletes can literally sign all the way up until/during training camp. The only stipulation on athletes signing in Canada (as far as dates go) is they cannot sign until September 1st of their senior year of highschool.

So what has become popular now is athletes verbally committing to a school earlier than that but then signing in September. For example, with the Bisons the past two years, we have had a handful of players verbally commit to us prior to September. So we invite them and their families to come and sign officially with us, on the field, during halftime of our homecoming game.

Left to Right – Austin Balan, Sam Hezekiah, Jarrett Alcaraz, Elijah Rivera, Isaiah Letander, and Breydon Stubbs. Photo: 1812 Photography

So with less ‘pressure’ of no signing day in U SPORTS, everyone’s recruiting process is unique and moves at a different pace than others. Some players commit very early into their senior year. Others start committing to their school of choice right around the holidays. Some do not even start visiting or talking to schools until the new year or after their first semester exams.

Still, there are plenty that do not commit to a school until well into the spring. This is one of the most exciting times of your life. Do not rush it. Do not let people pressure you into making a decision. Think about what is best for you, where you feel you fit in the best, commit to it when you are ready, and you will never look back.

Playing multiple sports/provincial teams

Aside from the actual recruiting process there is lots of other things going on in a young athletes life. The question we probably hear the most is athletes asking whether or not they should play basketball or hockey (or any other sport) that offseason or should they just train and get ready for university. Our answer never changes, no matter who is asking. You should always play each and every sport you want to play in high school.

There is nothing wrong with, and actually it is beneficial for all, if you DO play multiple sports in high school. There is so much cross training and mental sport development that occurs with athletes who play multiple sports that it is completely unnecessary to think you have to focus solely on football.

For athletes who are not in grade 12, we always get asked if they should play on the U16 or U18 provincial programs. Furthermore, some athletes will ask if it’s worth it if they basically already know what school they are probably going to. After all these tournaments are very well known for their recruiting frenzies.

For example, the U18 Canada Cup, is well known for all 27 U SPORTS teams having coaches there watching every game and practice. Most staffs send multiple coaches to the tournament to ensure they don’t miss anyone. For us, we love when guys we are recruiting play in these national tournaments.

For one, it exposes them to new competition and usually a higher level than they have ever played before. Two, being coached by new coaches, playing with new teammates, and travelling to compete are all things you are going to have to go through to play at the university level. Three, the tournament is a short, intense, microcosm of university football. You practice, you recover, you’re in meetings, film study, gameplan meetings, team meals, etc, for an entire week. It is a very good glimpse for you, and for us, to see how you adapt to these circumstances.

Does it make us a little uncomfortable to see guys like Breydon Stubbs win offensive MVP every game he competes in at the tournament? Of course, but our job is to recruit high quality players like that to stay in Manitoba and be Bisons, so there is no way we would discourage anyone from wanting to compete nationally.

Third party recruiting agencies

Lastly, and this one might be painful for some to hear, let’s talk about third party recruiting agencies. They are people whom you hire to send your film out and put you in contact with university coaches on either side of the border. They usually cost a good chunk of money and make no promises for what they can secure for you. They ultimately put it on you to put a great tape together and do great things on the field.

Please, please, do NOT waste your money on these agencies. I have worked in two different conferences within U SPORTS football in Canada (CanWest and OUA). I have met dozens of coaches and talked about recruiting with almost all of them. A common theme amongst all of us how turned off we get from film sent to us by a ‘recruiting agency.’ So much so in fact, I have had numerous coaches over the years tell me many times that they won’t even watch the film if it comes from an agency, simply because of the headache of dealing with them.

Coaches don’t want to offer a guy on your tape an opportunity to play for them. They want to get to know YOU the person and the athlete. Contact coaches directly, their email addresses are all public on the team’s websites. Make the email personal to that coach, (do not copy and paste the same one to every team) and show sincere interest in their program, tell them why you think you are a good fit for them, and why their school is a good fit for you. You will be surprised how quick coaches respond to email like that as opposed to generic ones.

Recruiting is a tough path to navigate and can always be daunting to work through. If you have any questions, please feel free to email us at either or or  and we can answer it in the next article.

Recruiting 101 with Ryan Karhut: The do’s and don’ts of making a highlight tape

The 2018 varsity football season is now over, and for many seniors out there the next task at hand is obtaining an offer to play university or junior football. There are many factors that go into a coaching staff’s decision to offer a player a scholarship or simply an invite to camp and it can be intimidating at times trying to metaphorically man the waters that go with the recruiting process. With that in mind, manitobafootballfeed is pleased to offer a new bi-weekly series called Recruiting 101 with Ryan Karhut.

The former offensive lineman has been through it all, from coaching at the high school ranks all the way to playing in the pros, and is pleased to offer his insight on a variety of topics pertaining to recruiting.

He played five years of junior football with the Edmonton Huskies before being recruited by the University of Central Florida in NCAA Division 1 for the 2004 season. In 2005 he transferred to the University of Manitoba, where he spent the next three years, including winning a Vanier Cup in 2007 as a captain. He was also drafted in the fifth round of the 2007 CFL draft and played parts of three seasons with Montreal.

In 2012, Karhut won the WHSFL division 2 title with the Kelvin Clippers as their offensive coordinator before being named head coach of the Winnipeg Rifles, where he manned the helm from 2013-15. In 2015, he was appointed special teams coordinator and defensive line coach with York University — a position he stayed in until 2017, when he returned to the U of M in his current role as special teams coordinator and running backs coach.

Now that you’re well equipped in Karhut’s background, I’ll let him take it away with the first edition of recruiting 101, which will break down the do’s and don’ts of making a highlight tape. 

It’s that time of year again. Your football season has just finished and you are getting excited about getting recruited, as you should. Whether you are in Grade 12, 11, or even ten, this is when you should be making a tape of all your best plays from the season, even if you are unsure if you want to play college, junior, or any football at all.

There is a lot to consider and a loose structure you should follow when making that tape. Remember, not just the people you send it to will see it. Lots of university coaches will stumble upon and watch your film for various reasons. This is literally your first impression with potentially your future coach!

The hardest part for some players (especially grade ten and 11 students) is trying to figure out how to put a tape together, especially, if they are not the focal point of the offence or defence. Some athletes get discouraged being unsure of what constitutes as a highlight or not. There inlies the beauty of football.

Whenever someone makes a huge run, 11 other guys had to work hard to help make that happen. Highlights happen all over the place and university coaches love to see variety. If you are a receiver, coaches want to see you blocking people, showing great effort while blocking just like you show after you catch a ball. If you are a DB coaches want to see great coverage, and if it’s a run play, seeing you come off the block/route and showing great pursuit effort in getting to the ball.

Don’t ever discount high effort plays. As well, special teams plays should absolutely be included (if you played them).

Onto the structure of the tape. Let’s cover all the DO’S first before we talk about the don’ts. The very first thing that should appear on your tape is all your personal info. Coaches still scratch their heads when players don’t put height, weight, or contact info on their film. So please, start with that. Plus, this is a great opportunity for you to brag a bit and boast about your stats as well. Coaches want a reason to keep watching your tape, all this info is a great start to getting them hooked.

Next thing you need to do is ensure you highlight where you are on the film PRIOR to the snap. Coaches do not want to watch half a play of you. We want to see the entire rep with you clearly marked before the ball is snapped. We want to see first steps, note where your eyes are and why, and the path you take to make the play you are about to show us. Note: if you are a QB or kicker, it is fair to highlight yourself on the first play but there is no reason to do it every following play.


The next thing you want to do is ensure you properly put your highlights in order. Always, always always, put your best plays first. There are very few coaches who watch an entire 5-minute highlight tape before making a decision on you. If the film is chronological, some/most coaches may not even see your top-5 plays. Wow the coaches. Make them want to watch more, give them reason to watch another play, and another, and another.

Lastly, make the highlight tape as long as you see fit. There is no rule to follow here. The average is about four minutes per tape but don’t put in random meh plays just to make it to four minutes. Like I stated before, most college coaches don’t watch the entire film. They usually have their opinion of you as a player formed within the first minute of your tape. I have seen countless spectacular 2-3 minute tapes.

Here are some DON’TS of making a highlight tape that coaches see far too often and complain about all the time. First of all I know you feel like you need just the right music to bring the right energy to your film. You should know coaches watch about 95 percent of films with the sound muted. That being said, do not risk it by putting music with racial slurs, derogatory remarks, or cursing in it. Remember, this is your first impression to a coach who works at an academic institution.

It does not seem to be as much as an issue anymore as it used to be but do not put your personal info and contact info at the end of the tape. Most coaches don’t watch until the end and you will get lost in the shuffle if they turn on your tape and don’t see a way to contact you.

If your school or team has multiple film angles (tight and wide) do not put both angles for every play. As you go through and make your tape decide which angle best shows the play and put that ONE on your tape. Many coaches will shut off your tape in frustration after a few plays if they are always repeating themselves. If you are stuck and cannot decide which is right for you, the general rule of box players should be tight film and WR’s and DB’s on wide film is always your best bet.

Lastly, ensure the marking you use to highlight yourself are off the screen when the play starts. There is literally nothing worse that people who put huge graphics on themselves, or black out the screen except themselves, and the play starts and you can’t see what is happening.

As well, do not photoshop or edit your video to have all sorts of special effects. Again, if you want to do that for your own personal copy, go ahead, but don’t do it for a tape you are sending out. Keep the film simple and straightforward. Let your hard work and effort impress a coach not your edits. We want you to play football not work in our media department.

There are a lot of don’ts in here but remember, coaches are literally pouring over 500-700 tapes every off-season to find the 30-40 players they want. Nothing will get you bypassed faster than what was outlined. Make sure you remember, this is your first chance to make a great impression on your future coach who works for an academic institution. Represent yourself properly and professionally.

France, Rams look to end Hilltops Canadian Bowl drive for five

By: Mike Still (@mikestill94)

Feature photo: Alex France (L) shortly after winning the CJFL national semi-final over the Hamilton Hurricanes on Nov. 3.

The Langley Rams have been on a roll as of late. They’ve won nine straight games, including the British Columbia Football Conference’s (BCFC) Cullen Cup, as well as the Canadian Junior Football League’s national semi-final. On Nov. 17, they’ll face their biggest challenge yet, as they do battle with the four-time defending Canadian Bowl champion Saskatoon Hilltops, who topped Langley 39-14 in 2014 – the last time the two teams met for the national title.

The Rams have assembled a talented roster that features athletes from across Canada, five of whom are from Manitoba. One of those players is receiver Alex France, a product of the Midget Football League of Manitoba’s (MFLM) Interlake Thunder, who’s been with the team since 2017.

France was a late bloomer to football, not suiting up with Interlake until grade 11. His background was actually in rugby, as he lived in England until he was ten years old and played the forward/hooker position.

“Rugby was just something that I was born into doing,” he says. “My dad was a big fan of it and played when he was younger, and he got me and my brother heavily involved in it.”

France fell in love with catching the ball and scoring, which led him to play receiver for the Thunder for both of his high school seasons. He had a breakout senior year, making Team Manitoba Silver’s U18 roster in the summer while also being named a MFLM All-Star later that year after recording 34 receptions for 373 yards and a score.

He was quick to credit his head coach at the time, Kris Johnston for his success. The former bench boss for the Thunder most recently won a JV title as lead man for the Vincent Massey Trojans last week.

“It was a great time under coach Kris Johnston,” France says. “He just made the sport even better for me. He taught me a lot of life lessons too, not just about football. It was just a great time. All the guys were great there and the football was fun.”

France had junior football interest from both the Langley Rams and Westshore Rebels of the British Columbia Football Conference (BCFC) after high school, ultimately choosing the Rams for the 2017 season. He spent his first year learning under playmakers such as 2017 BCFC All-Star Khalik Johnson as well as 2018 standouts Jevon Cottoy and Nick Agnoletto.

“It was just different,” he says of the atmosphere in Langley.

“It was a fun, tough physical environment, which is all the things that I like. All the guys were great and the coaches were excellent. It was just a great football atmosphere and community.”

France and the Rams haven’t been without their share of adversity, however.

On a personal level, France broke his collarbone during the first game of the 2018 regular season and was out until the second last contest of the year due to complications from an infection.

“At first it was hard to believe, and I was more mad at myself for some reason. I’d put in all this work in the offseason and at spring camp and main camp and just like that I felt like it was gone. But returning at the end of the year, it just felt so good to be back in the pads and back with the guys.”

On a team note, the squad have endured mid-season coaching changes in back-to-back years.

In 2017, head coach Khari Joseph resigned with just three games left in the regular season, while this year, Matt ‘Snoop’ Blokker, a former multiple-time national champion with Vancouver Island and the winningest coach in BCFC history, stepped down mid-season.

“None of us really knew that coach Snoop would be leaving there,” France says.

“It was a big surprise for me anyways, for some of the other guys maybe not. I didn’t see that coming, but we knew as soon as coach Howie [Zaron] stepped up that we were in good hands, because he’s been around the game for a long time. The mood didn’t really change, we knew we had to keep the foot on the gas pedal and keep rolling with it.”

Zaron, a Langley native and former BCFC coach of the Year in 2007 and 2008 with the Chilliwack Huskers, was originally brought in as the club’s general manager at the beginning of the season, before taking over for Blokker. The team hasn’t lost a game since he assumed the controls, including winning their first Cullen Cup in four years.

“With this team, we practice like we play,” France says.

“Throughout the whole week, we were making sure the intensity levels were up and our hype level was up. The Saturday [of the Cullen Cup week] we had a practice and you could just tell there was a different mood. We were just ready for [the game].”

In just two days, France and the Rams will do battle with Saskatoon for the third time in seven seasons in the Canadian Bowl, looking to get their first win in the big game. No matter how it goes, he’ll look back on the season with positivity, despite its hiccups.

“It’s been a great year, but for me it’s been up and down with the injury. Regardless, it’s been one of my funnest years of football for sure.”

WHSFL championship games preview

By: Mike Still (@mikestill94)

Feature photo: The ANAVETS Bowl sees a rematch from week three, as two national powerhouses in St. Paul’s 1 and Vincent Massey go at it.

The field is set, and now it’s time to see who the best of the best truly are as WHSFL championship week gets going. All five varsity conference champs advanced to the final, while St. John’s only loss was at the hands of Currie Conference champion Elmwood. In the JV division, Vincent Massey will look to complete a perfect season as they do battle with the resilient Grant Park Pirates. Get all the details below. Please note that there is a $5 entrance fee for all contests.

JV Homerun Bowl: Vincent Massey WPG Trojans (6-0, #1 seed) vs Grant Park Pirates (3-3, #4 seed), Thursday at 5 p.m. at IGF

The Trojans rolled through their competition in the regular season, outscoring their opponents 296-21, including four shutouts. It’s really no surprise that they’re in the position they’re in now, as they had eight players on Team Manitoba’s U16 silver medal-winning provincial team — a number of whom played vital roles, such as Negus Lewin, Payton Lake, Mekai Sallaint and Jordan Hanslip — the future of the Trojans varsity program under centre.

“We’re really close from playing on the same team for a while now,” Hanslip said of the dynamic he has with his teammates. “We just have a really good connection and we know what each other are going to do at any moment.”

The Pirates played Massey tight in the regular season, falling 27-7 in what was one of the Trojans toughest battles all year. Hanslip expects another hard-fought contest tomorrow night.

“They’re a really good team and they’re coached really well,” he said. “They’re very disciplined and play very physical, so we’re expecting a hard-hitting game and I’m hoping for the best.”

Grant Park started the season 1-3, struggling through some though injuries. But they’ve won their last four games in a row, including two shutouts. Long-time varsity head coach Mike Kennedy has done a great job grooming his players to be prepared and you can expect a dog fight when these two squads go at it. One player to watch out for is defensive end/centre Sal Pasta, who has been described by varsity head coach Doug Kovacs as a “straight up savage.”

“We had a couple mistakes and a couple turnovers the last time we played Massey and a couple of guys hung their heads at that,” Pasta said. “This time around we need to keep our heads up, even if there’s a turnover or a bad play and just go forward with the next play and keep pushing.”

Division 3 CanadInns Bowl: Elmwood Giants (5-1, #1 seed) vs St. John’s Tigers (5-1, #2 seed), Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at IGF

Two original WDS1 teams will go at it on Thursday night for division 3 supremacy, as the Tigers look to avenge their only loss of the season against the Giants.

The Tigers have had strong protection from the right side of their offensive line all year, giving pivot Myles Kakewash enough time to find open receivers or scramble for yards outside of the pocket. He finished the year with 706 passing yards and 13 scores, including 166 in the 45-28 loss to Elmwood back in week two.

One of the key hoggies up front was captain Chase Kaminski, who feels that the key to a Tigers victory in the rematch will be winning the battle up front. The Giants boast running back Evyn Melville-Toth, who broke the division 3 record for rushing touchdowns this season, with 17.

“If our defensive line controls the line of scrimmage and shuts down the run, I think we’ll do pretty good,” he said. “I believe that our 12 will out-hustle and out-work them for sure.”

The soft-spoken Melville-Toth is the furthest thing from his quiet demeanour when he steps on the field. He’s not the biggest guy out there, but he thrives on contact and is essentially like a bowling ball once he gets rolling. He ran for 168 yards and four scores the first time the two teams met and will look to use his power to his advantage once again tomorrow.

“I’m small so I have a low centre of gravity,” he said. “When people try to get lower than me it doesn’t really happen. I learned to read blocks from my coaches which has also helped.”

Division 2 CTV Bowl: River East Kodiaks (6-1, #1 seed in Bramwell) vs Kelvin Clippers (6-1, #1 seed in Vidruk), Friday at 5 p.m. at IGF

This contest sees veteran head coach Jon Romu do battle with first-year bench boss Sean Oleksewycz in a rematch of their week five contest, which River East won 33-0. There’s plenty of knowledge between the two teams, as former Kodiaks varsity head coach/current JV front man Robin Meade was part of Romu’s staff back in the day.

“There’s always been a tie between River East and Kelvin as far as coaching staffs and family goes,” Romu said. “So it was actually really interesting that we make it to the finals. It’s also great, because River East and Kelvin have both been around for a long time and both teams are going through a bit of a resurgence.”

Oleksewycz preached trusting the process all year and the kids got on board, winning in the semi-finals for the first time in over two decades.

“When I took over in January, the first thing we instilled was a process and a culture,” he said. “We put a weightlifting program in and our kids bought into it. The hard work is paying off.”

Leading the charge for the Kodiaks is senior pivot Sammy Hezekiah, who scored a combined 20 touchdowns through the air and on the ground while amassing over 1,000 all-purpose yards as a Player of the Year candidate. The Bison commit, who will play for the U of M as a halfback, also shut down Kelvin’s Brock Gates — the division’s leading receiver — the first time the two squads met.

“[Oleksewycz] has prepared us mentally, especially with film,” he said. “Right now, I think we have the best defence in the league and that’s because we know what the other offences are doing position-wise.”

The Clippers are no slouches on the defensive side either. The trio of Dylan Hess, Treyshaun Bollers and last year’s Kas Vidruk – Outstanding Down Lineman award winner Isaiah Letander have combined for 17 sacks. All three players are close friends off the field and have found their stride over the past two years. Bollers noted that the key to stopping Hezekiah will be limiting what he’s able to do with his legs in read-option situations — something that didn’t happen the first time around.

“I think it’s about holding our contain on the ends just so [Hezekiah] can’t keep running out,” he said. “We want to force him to use his arm instead of using his speed.”

Offensively, Clippers pivot Daniel Moroz — who was the division’s rookie of the year in 2017 — overcame a devastating spine injury during last year’s semi-final, throwing for over 1,200 yards this year. He has arguably the division’s best receiving corps, led by Gates and Robin Brooks, however the unit — like many others this season — were stymied by Hezekiah, JoJo Funk-Clements, Simon Kosman, Victor Mubambe and company during the regular season.

“Really it’s just about knowing my receivers,” Moroz said of his pass-catchers, four of whom were in the top five in yards this year. “We’ve got stud receivers all across the board and I know where they’re going to be on the field.”

River East QB/HB Sammy Hezekiah is the heart and soul of the Kodiaks team.

Division 3 ANAVETS Bowl: Vincent Massey Trojans (6-0-1, #1 seed in Gustafson) vs St. Paul’s 1 Crusaders (6-1, #1 seed in Potter), Friday at 7:30 p.m. at IGF

Two nationally ranked squads will go at it once more as the Crusaders and Trojans renew a rivalry that has quickly become one of the most competitive and entertaining in the province. St. Paul’s 1 have reached the division 1 final 11 years in a row — including back-to-back victories, while the Trojans are looking for their first bowl win since 2015, when head coach Kelsey McKay and company knocked off Stacy Dainard’s high-powered squad from River Heights.

“Every time we play St. Paul’s, we know what’s predicable. They don’t beat themselves, they’re very well-disciplined, highly-skilled and well coached,” McKay said. “It’s going to be a tremendous challenge for us on Friday night.”

The Trojans handed St. Paul’s their only loss of the season, a 14-10 defensive slugfest in week three and Dainard knows the rematch will be just as competitive.

“Coach McKay has done a great job over there building a program, and they’re the class of our league this year,” he said. “It’s going to be a dog fight and we certainly look forward to the challenge. It’s going to be a physical game in lovely November weather.”

The Crusaders defence paced the team all year, surrendering just 21 points in the regular season. The linebacking trio of senior Tyler Grom, junior Nathan Carabatsakis and sophomore Nic Pereira pave the way, while senior defensive lineman Dylan Duha led the team in sacks.

“This whole year, we’re basically a new team,” Duha said of the defensive dynamic. “This is my first year on the division 1 team and I think just working together every day in practice and coming out and being discipled helped us this year.”

Offensively, Crusaders pivot Brody Lawson threw for over 1,000 yards and also made plays with his feet. Last year’s ANAVETS Bowl MVP also had plenty of targets to throw the ball to, including seniors  Tristen Hutter, Cordell Francis and speed demon Thane Tomlinson, who knows that the offence will need to play at the highest level in order to flip the script from the regular season contest and continue the winning tradition at St. Paul’s.

“It’s a legacy,” he said.

“We’re always building off the tradition at St. Paul’s. The veterans last year told us that we had to keep working at it and get back to this position of being in the finals again. It was something that I never wanted to forget, and being back here is another opportunity to get that feeling again, so we’re really excited to play Massey this Friday.”

Vincent Massey counters with a roster that already has two Bison commits in receiver Vaughn Lloyd and running back Breydon Stubbs. The former had a 32.8 yards per reception average while the latter registered 823 yards as a strong complement to senior pivot Jackson Tachinski — who’s also getting a strong look from the U of M and threw for over 1200 yards this year with 14 touchdowns and no picks.

Defensively, 6’8″ defensive end Kyler Filewich — who already has a division 1 offer from UND — paced the Trojans pass rush with five sacks while also being a key cog on the offensive line.

“I think our defence has been good,” he said. “We definitely improved a lot throughout the year and going into the game we should be able to perform well. It will be a tough game for sure, but I think we match up well on both sides.”

Kyler Filewich helps bring down Crusaders pivot Brody Lawson earlier in the season.