By: Mike Still (@mikestill94)
Photo caption: Senior Austin Balan will be relied upon as a major contributor for Sisler on both sides of the ball in 2018. Photo by canadafootballchat.
Over the next month, manitobafootballfeed will be previewing each of the 31 varsity teams battling for supremacy in the Winnipeg High School Football League, which kicks off its regular season on Wednesday, Sept. 5. Below is a breakdown of the Sisler Spartans.
Team: Sisler Spartans
Head Coach(s): David DeGrave & Sean Esselmont (Year six)
Conference/Division: Gustafson Conference, Division 1
2017 Regular Season Record: 6-1
2017 Playoff Record: 1-1 (lost in semi-final to Dakota)
Sisler enjoyed another solid campaign in 2017, but fell just short of a trip to the ANAVETS Bowl after an upset loss to the Dakota Lancers in the semi-finals.
They return just nine starters, after having “one of their strongest draft classes in 2017,” according to Esselmont. That class included QB/DB Tyler Koniuck, LB/FB Easton Montour, SB/LB Treyton Viera, C/LB Zane Dear, OG Gage Pollok, NT Ryley Bednarski, LB Julian Machado, DB Tyler Smith, DB Cassius Meeches, RB Brayden Desjarlais and OT Umair Tahir, just to name a few.
The team will continue to rely on a strong junior varsity pipeline, which has been quite successful historically, as well as an impressive crop of returning seniors.
Sisler will rely on their speed on the offensive side of the ball in 2018.
“We have a good crop of receivers and everyone in our backfield is a viable option to run,” Esselmont said. “We also have a good offensive line and I believe our offense will come together nicely in fall camp.”
Leading the way will be impact #CFC100 Austin Balan who will play both ways yet again this season.
“Austin will be a focal point of our offense as he will transition from playing slotback last season to becoming our primary tail back,” Esselmont said. “In camp this spring Austin showed his strength as a runner as well as a receiver out of the backfield making him a matchup nightmare for opposing teams.”
Joining Balan as valuable two-way seniors will be offensive tackle Lance Leost and offensive guard Noah Cabral, who will each suit up on the defensive side of the ball in 2018 as well. Both players were part of a dominant run offence last season, earning the nickname of “The Union,” and will be captains for the upcoming year.
Another player looking build on an impressive 2017 season will be junior athlete Steven Koniuck. He was Sisler’s number one receiver as a sophomore, registering 500 yards and four touchdowns on just 19 receptions.
“Steven is in the top 100 in canada for the 2020 recruiting class, and was the WHSFL’s top receiver as a sophomore last season,” said Esselmont. “This season he will be used in a variety of ways in the offence to maximize his touches. Whether through rushing, receiving or passing, Steven will be a dynamic part of the offence.”
The biggest question mark for Sisler will likely be at the quarterback position. The team employed a few different players at pivot during the spring, including sophomore Richard Lugumire, who had a strong camp, according to Esselmont.
Much like on the offensive side of the ball, the defence will be led by Balan, who will line up at free safety for the third consecutive year for Sisler. The former John Potter Division Rookie of the Year is coming off an impressive Canada Cup showing, where he was named Team Manitoba’s Defensive Player of the Game on multiple occasions.
Another impact senior will be six-foot-three, 220 pound Chris Grouette, who will lead a defensive line that, according to Esselmont, “should be stout in the run game and apply pressure against opposing team’s quarterbacks.”
Grouette led the WHSFL in sacks in 2017, and is a heavy hitter coming off the edge. Junior linebacker Malcom Austria will also be called upon for a big role as he will play middle linebacker for the Spartans this year.
Short and long-term goals
Sisler is taking the 2018 season one step at a time. “Our short term goals are to have a great summer of off-season training, a great fall camp in August and to prepare for our first game,” said Esselmont.
“Long term, we believe this team can once again compete at a high level and hopefully will go far in the playoffs.”