The Saskatoon Hilltops enter the 2017 Canadian Junior Football League (CJFL) season in pursuit of history.
The club is currently the three-time defending national champions, which they've actually accomplished on three separate occasions since 2001 (2001-03, 2010-12, 2014-16).
But no CJFL team has won four straight nationals titles unless you count when the Hamilton Wildcats and Tigers merged in 1950 following two championship wins before tallying two more.
Five graduates of the North Battleford Comprehensive High School Vikings football program will be chasing that piece of history this fall as members of the Hilltops.
Taylor Elderkin and Jesse McNabb were part of last year's championship team, and now they're joined by rookies Jordan Delorme, Luciano Jolly, and Anson Landrie, all of whom played big roles as Vikings in high school.
"Whatever is going on in North Battleford with coach Humenny and his coaching staff, they just do great things," Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant said on the eve of the Hilltops season opener on Saturday night versus Regina. "These players come with good work ethic and they love to compete and they love to play physical football.
"They play the way we want Hilltops to play...hard-nosed, physical. Just get after it. We just love their approach to the game."
Sargeant has been at the helm of the Hilltops since 1998, compiling a ridiculous 132-20-2 record in those 19 seasons alongside 10 national championships.
He carries a large roster (80 players), so the three North Battleford rookies will likely not be seeing any starting time. But Elderkin and McNabb have already worked their way into the starting lineup in their second year.
"[Elderkin] is a key member of our starting offensive line and he's one of our higher end, better football players and [McNabb] has moved himself up the ladder and he's going to start this weekend and play a lot of sepcial teams as well," Sargeant said. "They're high-end players. They're top-40 players. They're starters, so they've got big roles.
"They bring everything that you look for in a coach and at the end of the day, they make us a better football team."
Delorme, Jolly and Landrie made the team because coaches saw their potential.
The trio will be tasked with soaking everything in and learning as much as they can this year. Then, they can start to compete for starting jobs.
"They've got to learn our system, learn our schemes, how we do business, and how we practice," Sargeant said. "Once they start getting a better understanding and feel for how it's to be, then we get out of their way and let them compete for starting positions. It's always a process that takes time."
The Hilltops have a new starting quarterback this year after Jared Andreychuk graduated. He led the team to the most recent three-peat. Taking over is Jordan Walls, who had been Andreychuk's under study the past three seasons and rarely seen action.
Sargeant said if the team is going to make history this season, the biggest factor will be how Wells fares. He said the team is excited to see what he can do.
"You're only as good as your quarterback," Sargeant said. "They can make things real easy for you. He's going to have to make a lot of plays, get comfortable in understanding the offence and being a good decision maker. He can make all the throws but he's just got to get the confidence on game day to do it and we're excited for how he's going to play in 2017."
The 2017 roster was put together just like any other year.
Sargeant said the local flavour is part of what makes this team so good.
"The best part about [our roster]; it's Saskatchewan kids. That's all we recruit," he said. "We do get a few kids from Alberta once in a while and we have that now, but at the end of the day, 98 per cent of our roster is Saskatchewan kids. And those are the ones that are tough and physical and usually lead us in a good way."
The CJFL season begins this evening with a road game against a familiar foe: the Regina Thunder.
It's a big game for two of the top teams in the country.
"That's our arch-rival and enemy in Regina...it's [always] a real dogfight, a physical match," Sargeant said. "There's not a lot of love lost between the two teams and ultimately we know the road goes throw Saskatoon or Regina and so we've got to play our best defence. We'll get a real good sense for what type of team we're going to be."
Kickoff Saturday is at 7 p.m. at the new Mosaic Stadium.
On Twitter: @NathanKanter11
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