After a few seasons of play that entrenched the Huskie offence in the bottom half of the conference, the team would like nothing more than to put the recent past behind them and vault to the top half of the offensive statistics column.
The Huskies’ offensive output was good for an average of 496.0 yards per game last season, which was placed them fourth in the conference. They showed flashes of brilliance and signs of their dominant teams of the late 2000’s in the first half, notably in two weeks in September that saw them beat Regina 33-18 at home and UBC 45-29 on the road.
Then, they played a home-at-home series against Calgary. Back to square one.
This year, the coaching staff has an experienced group at their disposal, with only four starters leaving in the offseason. With top-end talent like running back Tyler Chow and receiver Mitch Hillis entering their third and fourth years, respectively, the pieces are in place to potentially be one of the top offences in the conference, if not the CIS.
Returning Veterans: Kyle Siemens, Drew Burko
Fresh Faces: Mason Nyhus, Noah Dietrich
The quarterback position for the Huskies has been in flux since the graduation of now quarterback coach Laurence Nixon in 2010. However, Kyle Siemens’ impressive performance over the final three games showed that he is the steady, dependable starter the team has been looking for for so long.
In the three games he started last year, which included a start against UBC and one in the playoffs against the 8-0 Calgary Dinos, Siemens shone, completing 62.3% of his passes for 1298 yards and eight touchdowns. His control of the offence was supplemented by his control of the ball, as he threw only one interception over those three contests.
Drew Burko, who is entering his fifth-year, provides experience as the backup quarterback. Mason Nyhus, a product of Regina’s Riffel Royals who many consider the Huskies’ future starter, comes in with impressive credentials. After being named the offensive MVP of the 2015 Football Canada Cup as Team Saskatchewan’s quarterback, he led Team Canada’s U-18 team to a 31-13 win over the United States at the International Bowl last February in Dallas. Nyhus will be joined by another rookie, Noah Dietrich, who played his high school football at WJ Mouat in Abbotsford BC.
Returning Veterans: Drew Digout, Ryan Breadner, Evan Johnson, Josh Butcher, Tanner Secord, Cassidy Follensbee, Andrew Serke, Caleb Eidsvik, David Singer, Connor Berglof, Luke Tkatchuk, Matteus Yep, Mattlund Riley
Fresh Faces: Nick Summach, Noah Zerr, Mike Palumbo, Chase MacDonald
Key Losses: Mat Leung, Mat Czerniak
The Huskies lose two starters on the offensive line but return a core group who have played together for three years. Veteran starters Drew Digout, Ryan Breadner and Evan Johnson will be counted on to open holes for Tyler Chow and provide protection for Kyle Siemens, in addition to mentoring younger players like the highly touted Noah Zerr and Mike Palumbo.
The battle for the vacated guard and centre positions will be interesting to watch. We will likely see second-year player Andrew Serke at centre with the first unit, but don’t count out fifth-year veteran Josh Butcher. Tanner Secord, Cass Follensbee and Celeb Eidsvik are the likely frontrunners for the guard position, but don’t be surprised to see the Huskies move a player like Breadner inside, as they did with Digout. Having the 6’8”, 305 lb. former Hilltop Nick Summach on board will make a move this possible, as he should be able to slide into a tackle spot (or, perhaps, play guard himself).
Returning Veterans: Tyler Chow, Jarvis James, Shane Buchanan, Tristan Getzinger, Kaedon Armstrong, Jacob Anderson
Fresh Faces: Colton Klassen, Austin Ferronato, Isaac Rogers
Key Losses: Andre Lalonde, Drew Bexson
With Tyler Chow entering his third year, and backups Jarvis James and Shane Buchanan in their fifth years, the Huskies have talented, veteran crew at running back this year. Chow, who played six games last year, had 581 yards rushing and three touchdowns in addition to 120 yards receiving. He is arguably the top running back in Canada West this year, certainly equal to if not better than Regina’s Atlee Simon or Alberta’s Ed Ilnicki (who, although they each finished with more rushing yards last season, had 63 and 43 more carries than Chow last season, respectively).
What is old is new again when it comes to the Huskies’ offensive backfield, as they are now listing roughly half of their running backs as fullbacks. This signals that there will be more two-back sets and a greater role for fullbacks in the passing game, something we haven’t seen in the better part of a decade. To my recollection, the last Huskie offence that employed a fullback consistently was in 2006, when coach Dan Houle was still on the squad.
Former Regina Thunder running back Colton Klassen, who was a CJFL All-Canadian and was the offensive MVP for the Prairie Football Conference in 2015, is a key recruit for the Huskies. He performed as expected at spring camp, running downhill, hitting holes hard and getting tough yards. Look for Klassen to see plenty of field time this season.
Returning Veterans: Mitch Hillis, Julan Lynch, Yol Piok, Emmett Tims, Nick Middleton, Anthony Ferwerda
Fresh Faces: Chad Braun, Evan Kopchynski, Ben Getzlaf, Casey Long, Carter Dahl, Finley Easton, Evan Mann, Malcolm Thakurdeen, Dalton Christiansen, Brody Thomson, Sam Baker
Key Losses: Tevin Godfrey, John Trumpy, Brydon Ozmun, Steve Boryski
The Huskies had some significant turnover at receiver in the offseason, but still retain their top two receivers, fourth-years Mitch Hillis and Julan Lynch. Hillis was a first-team CIS All-Canadian in 2015, catching 66 passes for 1052 yards and seven touchdowns. Lynch caught 44 passes for 606 yards and three touchdowns last year.
Hillis and Lynch, in addition to second-year player Yol Piok, who had 194 yards receiving and one touchdown, provide an excellent foundation for the Huskie receiving unit. They will be joined by a pair of former Hilltops who will step in and play immediately in Chad Braun and Evan Kopchynski. Both were PFC all-stars in 2015, while Braun was also named a CJFL All-Canadian. Kopshynski was coming off of surgery to repair a torn ACL and did not participate in spring camp, but Braun impressed with his speed and hands, especially during the green and white scrimmage.
The roster will be tough to crack for rookies from high school, but if anyone can join the likes of David Murza, Scott McHenry and Mitch Hillis in doing that, it will be Ben Getzlaf. The Saskatoon product has a decorated career, twice playing for Team Saskatchewan at the Football Canada Cup, where he was named a Canada Cup all-star in 2015. He was also on Team Canada’s U-18 entry that defeated the United States in the 2016 International Bowl, where he played with fellow Huskie recruits Noah Zerr, Mason Nyhus and Josh Hagerty.
Tomorrow: defence and special teams.