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.

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