Thun­der­birds lean on all-pur­pose star in pur­suit of Canada West play­off spot

Vancouver Sun - - SPORTS - STEVE EWEN sewen@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/SteveEwen

Blake Nill’s face-to-face com­pli­ment was one thing for Trivel Pinto. It be­came de­cid­edly next level when UBC’s head foot­ball coach started throw­ing it out there pub­licly.

“He had told me per­son­ally and it was great,” Pinto, the T-Birds’ star re­ceiver and re­turn man, said of coach Nill’s dec­la­ra­tions that Pinto could be the top pick in the 2019 CFL draft, “and then he started us­ing it in the me­dia and I was like, ‘Whoa, he re­ally be­lieves that.’

“It caught me off guard when he started do­ing that. He re­ally does think that highly of me. You want your coach to be­lieve in you. It’s a good feel­ing.”

Pinto, a third-year pass catcher from Bramp­ton, Ont., is one of the play­ers that Nill will need to come through down the stretch if the TBirds are go­ing to do dam­age in the U Sports foot­ball play­offs.

UBC (3-2) has three games left in the Canada West reg­u­lar sea­son head­ing into a Satur­day visit (6 p.m.) to the Saskatchewan Huskies (2-3), and Nill’s bunch are tied with the Regina Rams (3-2) for sec­ond place, trail­ing the Cal­gary Di­nos (5-0). The top four teams make the Canada West post-sea­son.

UBC is at the Man­i­toba Bisons (1-4) on Oct. 21, and then wraps up league play host­ing Regina on Oct. 28.

Pinto tops UBC in re­cep­tions (27), re­cep­tion yardage (357), touch­down catches (three) and allpur­pose yards (632) de­spite miss­ing a game with an undis­closed in­jury. He’s third in Canada West in all-pur­pose yards per game (158) and sixth in re­cep­tion yards per game (89.3).

“He’s a pretty spe­cial kid,” Nill said of the six-foot, 195-pound Pinto. “Ev­ery team is gunning for him. They know what he brings and he’s still mak­ing things hap­pen.

“He’s one of the bet­ter play­ers in the coun­try and it’s up to us, as coaches, to man­age him well. It’s up to us, as coaches, to match him up well. We do that, and you’re go­ing to see even more out of him.”

Pinto is one of the holdovers from UBC’s 2015 Vanier Cup na­tional cham­pi­ons. An­other was sup­posed to be re­ceiver/re­turn man Mar­cus Davis, but Nill con­firmed this week that he’s been shut down for the sea­son with a left knee in­jury. It’s the sec­ond straight cam­paign that he’s had his year come to an early end due to an is­sue with that knee.

Davis played in just two games this sea­son. He led UBC in all-pur­pose yards (135.5 per game) dur­ing their Vanier Cup cam­paign.

It means that Pinto will cer­tainly con­tinue to be a fo­cal point of the of­fence. His best game this sea­son, oddly enough, was a 31-10 win over Saskatchewan on Sept. 16 at Thun­der­bird Sta­dium, be­fore a Home­com­ing Week­end crowd of 9,542.

Pinto fin­ished with 243 all-pur­pose yards, in­clud­ing 10 catches for 166 yards. He had a 23-yard touch­down catch in that group.

He ad­mits, though, that “even in the Saskatchewan game, I thought I could do more.” That gives you an idea of why Nill is so high on him.

“It was my best game on of­fence of the sea­son, but I still don’t think I lived up to what I can ac­com­plish,” said Pinto.

“I left the game think­ing that there’s a lot more I’m leav­ing out there.”

BOB FRID

Thun­der­birds re­ceiver Trivel Pinto tops UBC in re­cep­tions (27), re­cep­tion yardage (357), touch­down catches (three) and all-pur­pose yards (632), de­spite miss­ing a game due to an undis­closed in­jury.

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