On the field, Austin Balan is calm, cool and collected. He lets his play do the talking, puts his head down and gets to work. It’s rare that you’ll see him phased, which was particularly notable this year.
Entering the 2018 season, he knew his role would have to expand on both sides of the field with the departure of players such as Tyler Koniuck, Brayden Desjarlais and Easton Montour. The former Division 1 Rookie of the Year was prepared from the jump and it showed. He never took a play off, finishing with 1,222 rushing yards and eight scores as a fearless downhill running back as well as 81.5 tackles, four interceptions and two sacks at his more natural defensive back position, which he will play at the next level with the University of Manitoba upon graduation from Sisler.
Balan was rewarded for his efforts last night at the WHSFL’s year end awards banquet with both the Elite Performance Defensive Player of the Year and Bomber Alumni Most Outstanding Player awards. The former is presented to one offensive and defensive player in each division who made the biggest difference to their team as a whole while the latter is voted on by the Bomber Alumni Association and is presented to the best overall player in each division.
Not surprisingly, Balan was humble and respectful when discussing his newly-won hardware.
“I was very honoured to receive both of these awards tonight. It means a lot,” he said. “It represents all the hard work that I’ve put in over the past couple of years on the practice field and working out. I want to thank all my coaches for all the time and dedication they’ve put in to help me grow into the player I am today as well.”
The Elite Performance Offensive Player of the Year race on the other hand, was so tight that the committee chose to give the nod to two pivots: Jarrett Alcaraz from Garden City and Jackson Tachinksi from the ANAVETS Bowl-winning Vincent Massey Trojans.
The former — who will play for the U of M in the fall as a defensive back — was pleasantly surprised to co-win the award for what is technically his secondary position. While this may be true, there’s no denying the impact Alcaraz had under centre for the Fighting Gophers. He had over 1,000 all-purpose yards and double-digit touchdowns as a playmaker with both his arm and legs.
“It was definitely an honour winning this award, especially it not being my main position,” Alcaraz said. “Being able to win it with Jackson [Tachinski], that guy is one of my buddies, we played together this summer as well, so it’s definitely awesome winning it with him.”
Tachinski was lights out all year. The MVP of the ANAVETS Bowl had well over 1200 yards and didn’t throw an interception. He also displayed his poise, especially in the championship game, where he perfectly executed the two-minute drill to complete a come-from-behind win for Massey.
“It feels good,” Tachinski said after co-winning the award. “There were definitely a lot of other deserving nominees and I could’ve lost to any of them so I’m appreciative of this recognition.”
Tachinski hasn’t decided where he’s playing next season yet, however there is certainly plenty of interest in his services, including from the Bisons.
It’s not easy stepping out of the shadows of Dayton Black, however that’s exactly what quarterback Evan Nachtigall did this year for Neelin. In the process, he broke two records set by last year’s Division 2 Offensive Player of Year, putting up a record 234 passes for a new division 2 high of 1985 yards.
The gunslinger was honoured for his work as the second straight player from the Spartans to win the Elite Performance Offensive Player of the Year award and third in a row from a Brandon school after Mack Adams from Massey Brandon took home the trophy in 2016.
“It really started in grade nine when I came into Neelin being a backup behind Dayton and taking second team reps every practice, and even the odd one in-game, especially last year in the playoffs against Kelvin,” said Nachtigall.
“The offseason was really about throwing a lot of balls and getting my arm ready for my first year starting at quarterback.”
The River East Kodiaks swept the Defensive Player of the Year and Bomber alumni awards, with Ethan Topping taking home the former and Sammy Hezekiah securing the latter.
Topping, a hybrid linebacker had seven sacks and five forced fumbles and was all over the field for the Kodiaks, helping them to their first varsity title in over two decades. He’s also the fourth player in the past six years from the school to win the award.
The charismatic Hezekiah had 19 combined touchdowns as a dual threat under centre for River East and was also lockdown all year at the halfback position, which he will play in the fall for the Bisons. He was also the CTV Bowl MVP after a stellar performance that included the game-winning pick six.
“It’s crazy. This is my first time winning anything major at this banquet,” a visibly excited Hezekiah said. “It means a lot to me.”
Two record breakers were acknowledged for their performances in division 3, as Elmwood’s Evyn Melville-Toth took home the Elite Performance Offensive Player of the Year award while William Barnsdale of Churchill was selected as Defensive Player of the Year.
Melville-Toth, also known as the human bowling ball, used his small but built frame to bounce off of defenders all season. In the process, he broke the division record for rushing touchdowns, with 17. Barnsdale was a hound for the football, eclipsing the division record for fumble recoveries in a season, with seven while also tying the record for fumble receives in a game, with three.
The Bomber alumni award went to division 3 champion Asher Wood of St. John’s. The title game MVP did a little bit of everything for the Tigers — who won their first championship since 1980. He was the team’s leading receiver with 427 yards and eight scores, added five interceptions on defence and also tallied eight field goals.
“It’s a real honour to be named the most outstanding player in our division,” Wood said. “One of our best players Payton [Yakimishyn] moved just before the season started, so I knew I had to step up and become a leader on the team.”
Wood, who is also a standout soccer player, has had interest from universities in reference to his play on the pitch, but is still undecided on whether or not he will go that route or play football. One way or the other, he’s in a good position, as St., John’s gives out a number of full scholarships to the U of M, so he’s going to try and get one of those.
Heavy Metal Design Coach of the Year: Mike Steeves, Vincent Massey Brandon
Rick Symonds Memorial Assistant Coach of the Year: Jason Park, St. Paul’s 1
Arnie Taylor Volunteer Award: Mark Dibol, Portage
Robert Whitlaw Memorial Rookie of the Year Award: Keshaun Ducharme (Churchill, Div 3), Kaiden Banfield (Portage, Div 2), Nic Pereira (St. Paul’s 1, Div 1)
Kas Vidruk Memorial Lineman of the Year Award: Jeremy Hampshire (Elmwood, Div 3), Isaiah Letander (Kelvin, Div 2), Kyler Filewich (Vincent Massey WPG, Div 1)
Jim Foubister Award (Presented annually to a high school football player who displays excellence on the field, sportsmenship, teamwork and overall good person. The selection of the award winner is determined by the officials of the league): Reese Francey, Garden City
John Potter/D’Arcy Bain Sports Physiotherapy Bursary Award (Presented annually to a grade 12 graduating high school football player who plans to continue their football career. The selection will be based on the development and progress made by a player during their high school playing career): Elijah Rivera, Garden City
Harry Hood Memorial Trophy (Awarded annually to the high school football player who exemplifies the standard in playing ability, school citizenship, fair play and scholastic standing.The selection of the award winner is made by the special committee.A scholarship of approximately $500.00 will be awarded to the trophy recipient upon registration at an educational institution of their choice next fall): Brody Lawson, St. Paul’s 1