Rookies add crackle, pop to Hilltops
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