Rook­ies add crackle, pop to Hill­tops

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - Sports - By Cory Wolfe

The Saskatoon Hill­tops’ crazy train has some new re­cruits. In the hu­man de­mo­li­tion derby known as spe­cial teams, rook­ies Jon Dewitt, Corbin Eskel­son and Scott Splaw­in­ski have been lead­ing the charge. When they’re not blaz­ing trails for the Hill­tops’ re­turn men, they’re set­ting road­blocks for op­pos­ing ball car­ri­ers.

“It’s full speed and it’s no-holds­barred,” says Dewitt, a prod­uct of Ros­th­ern. “It’s just straight-on sprint­ing, hard-hit­ting foot­ball. If you go through spe­cial teams and you don’t ei­ther knock some­one down or get knocked down, you’re not go­ing hard enough.”

Hill­tops as­sis­tant coach War­ren Muzika, a for­mer CFL spe­cial teams star, says the rookie trio has changed the whole dy­namic of Saskatoon’s spe­cial teams since they started tak­ing reg­u­lar turns in Week 4.

“We be­came more ex­plo­sive with more big plays,” notes Muzika. “They cov­ered the field so much bet­ter and field.”

Dewitt, 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, Eskel­son, 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, and Splaw­in­ski, six-foot, 205 pounds, all have line­backer frames. How­ever, their phys­i­cal make-up isn’t what makes them most qual­i­fied for spe­cial teams, says Muzika.

“They have the right com­bi­na­tion of size and speed to phys­i­cally do it,” says Muzika. “But com­pared to full­backs or run­ning backs — some of the of­fen­sive guys — they have a dif­fer­ent men­tal­ity. They don’t re­ally want to build and cre­ate and make a beau­ti­ful piece of art on a can­vas.

“They just want to come in there and smash it be­comes their art.”

The re­sults aren’t al­ways pretty. Ear­lier this sea­son, Eskel­son was at the bot­tom of a pile when an op­po­nent stepped on his throat.

“For peo­ple who don’t know the game, see­ing a guy run down the field like that, they might think we’re crazy, but it’s just what we love,” says Eskel­son, who hails from Rosetown.

Splaw­in­ski’s ex­pla­na­tion is as straight-ahead as his route the ball.

“I’m on the field and I get to hit some­one and that’s one of the main rea­sons why I like to play foot­ball,” says the St. Joseph High School grad.

Quick-cut­ting re­turn men might be the mar­quee at­trac­tions on spe­cial teams, but few would deny the con­tri­bu­tions of the sup­port­ing cast. The re­la­tion­ship be­tween re­turn spe­cial­ists and their block­ers is akin to the bond be­tween run­ning backs and of­fen­sive line­men.

“You have the hugest re­spect for the guys in front of you be­cause you know that with­out them, you’re go­ing to get ro­totilled by some­one,” says Saskatoon’s Gregg Woy­towich, who ranks sec­ond in the Prairie Foot­ball Con­fer­ence with 313 punt re­turn yards.

“I thank them ev­ery time we come off the field, say­ing, ‘Good blocks, boys. Good ev­ery­thing.’ They’re the ones makes the holes and the gaps for us.”

The Hill­tops (6-1) cap the reg­u­lar sea­son tonight when Regina Thun­der (3-4) vis­its Gordie Howe Bowl.

EX­TRA POINTS: One of the big­gest crowds of the sea­son is ex­pected to con­verge on Gordie Howe Bowl for Fam­ily Night, with free ad­mis­sion for hun­dreds of el­e­men­tary school­ers. Prizes awarded at half­time in­clude a flat screen TV and two bi­cy­cles.

Thun­der (3-4) at Hill­tops (6-1), 7 p.m., tonight Gordie Howe Bowl Magic 98.3 FM

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