By: Mike Still (@mikestill94)
Feature photo: Team Canada U16 member Isaac Dokken will look to build on an impressive 2017 campaign. Photo by hudl.com
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 Steinbach Sabres.
Team: Steinbach Sabres
Head Coach: Stephen Fedus, first year (third year on staff)
Conference/Division: Potter Conference, Division 1
2017 Regular Season Record: 2-5
2017 Playoff Record: 0-1 (Lost to Sister in AAA quarterfinal)
Last season, the Steinbach Sabres — who are the second largest high school in Manitoba — moved up from AA to AAA and showed well. Now in their second straight season in the top division, look for the squad to make even bigger strides.
The relatively young team returns 10 starters from last season, but perhaps the biggest change is at the head coaching position, as Jamie Peters — who started the program and led the squad to a CTV Bowl win in 2016 — has transitioned into a general manager’s role and will also be an assistant coach for the varsity team in 2018.
Taking up the mantle as head coach is Stephen Fedus, who was also on the team’s staff when they went all the way two years ago. On top of that, he’s been a member of Team Manitoba’s U18 coaching staff for the past seven years, is a former offensive line coach with the Winnipeg Rifles and also has a Vanier Cup ring from his time as a player with the Manitoba Bisons.
Offence: Leading the way at quarterback will be returning starter Sawyer Thiessen, who threw for 1,085 yards as a freshman. This season, he’ll have fellow grade 10 quarterback Payton Falk to support him. The latter has transferred back to his home school after spending the 2017 season at St. Paul’s.
“The grade 10 quarterbacks will also see time at receiver and give the offence the ability to provide multiple looks,” Fedus said.
Additionally, grade 11 athletes Teg Peters and Avery Penner are both capable of carrying the football as well as lining up at slotback. They’re expected to be among the favourite targets for the sophomore pivots, with impact receivers Eric Adams and Sheycoy Selent moving on to the Manitoba Bisons and Winnipeg Rifles, respectively.
Protection up front for Thiessen and Falk will be headlined by Ethan Gruninger, Ron Anderson and Michael Amador.
Defence: The Sabres return six starters on defence and will continue to feature “aggressive, heavy pressure defences,” according to Fedus.
With safety/linebacker Tyler Bueckert gone to the Rifles, the team will run through grade 11 middle linebacker Isaac Dokken, who had 53 tackles, three sacks, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries a year ago. He also played for Team Canada U16 in January and Team Manitoba U18 in the summer.
“He’s a very physical player who is constantly working to improve his play,” Fedus said of the junior.
Additionally, the defensive line will be anchored by seniors Billy Godwaldt and Keone Montrose-Rodgers in the middle.
Much like the Sister Spartans — who are the largest high school in Manitoba — the Sabres benefit from a strong junior varsity program that constantly feeds the next wave of talent. Included in this year’s crop are junior defensive ends Thomas Peters and Keagan Sawatzky, along with linebackers Jayden Pozniak and Luke Mehling.
Short and long-term goals: As is the case when younger players step up to the varsity level, Fedus is looking for his team to “compete every snap of every game as the younger players adjust to the speed and physicality of varsity football.” He added that “ultimately, we are looking to improve on our record from last year and are striving to compete with the best teams in the province.”