Has football in Saskatchewan ever been stronger?

It’s a bold observation to make, but this past year has been filled with so many different excellent football stories coming out of the prairies that the question must be asked.

Whether it was local players getting back to, or playing their first games of CJFL football across the west; local product Kayden Johnson enduring a CFL training camp before taking off to train with Bobsleigh Canada; or locally connected Logan Ferland fitting right in with the Saskatchewan Roughriders starting offense line in his first pro season.

The Roughriders had the capability of starting an All-Sask offensive line this year, and even some west central connections were even younger pieces on a terrific University of Saskatchewan squad that just fell short of a Vanier Cup title back on December 4th. Football has always had a strong presence in Saskatchewan, but this year seemed to be special with an extra helping of hype. 

One great CJFL story to follow this season was the Regina Thunder, who featured Unity product Zenon Orobko at quarterback during parts of their season. He played a big part in the teams two regular season wins against the Saskatoon Hilltops, and though they lost out to their rivals in the playoff match-up, the team earned a large amount of praise from the current Roughriders guard and former Thunder great in Ferland.

Logan Ferland Regina Thunder 2018via Scott MacAulay on Twitter

“That (loss) is just a cloud hanging over their head,” said Ferland who attended the game back on November 14th in Regina, “They just didn’t play their best, and it was frustrating to watch the Hilltops win again.”

Even though he is Prairie Football Conference (PFC) alumni, he was extra happy to see the Hilltops lose their next week out to the British Columbia Football Conference’s (BCFC) Langley Rams, who eventually beat the Ontario Football Conference’s (OFC) London Beefeaters 37-0 to win the Canadian Bowl.

Even though they never reached their goals after being the #1 ranked team all year, the Thunder can certainly hang their hat on the fact they did something even Ferland never managed; beating the rival Hilltops multiple times in one season. Even though they couldn’t make it three, Ferland was impressed with the effort shown.

“I’m still proud of the guys and the locker room that they built this year. I’ve never seen a locker room that tight, they are going to have that memory forever and should be proud of what they put out there.”

Thunder players should appreciate the kind words from Ferland, who is a model for the team following his ascent to the Roughriders. Maybe they can learn how to approach the new season from the perspective of the Roughriders who’s season ended in unceremonious fashion as well.

The backup QB Orobko is excited at the prospect of running it back with his team, but knows life gets in the way sometimes at this level.

Regina Thunder Wanda Harron PhotographyOne of Orobko's offensive weapons catching a pass (@WandaHarron on Twitter/Wanda Harron Photography)

“We lose 6 players, and some pretty big pieces, but returning 78 sounds sweet. Obviously that’s not going to happen because things happen in life, and guys will get offers to play elsewhere, but the potential to have that is pretty sweet.”

When referencing the possibility of a large scale Thunder reunion Orobko exuded the same energy that Ferland described about the team. Tight-knit, and likely not satisfied with the result of their season. 

“I think there will be more coming back next year than we regularly see. It’s pretty exciting to see the depth chart and see the guys we are losing, and the team is still pretty strong.”

Orobko was disappointed in sharing the details of their final game of the season against the Hilltops, but he was picked back up when he laid out just how much support his hometown has given him so far.

Equal support has been given to another west central QB from Kerrobert.

What are the odds that two former 6-man QB’s from the same area were given decent playing time as backups this year in the CJFL?

Clark Snider (Jim Motokado Photography)Former Kerrobert Rebel quarterback Clark Snider (Jim Motokado Photography)

Clark Snider was a rookie for the Kamloops Broncos this past season. While Orobko had already spent a season with the Thunder, Snider received his opportunity for increased snaps while only in his first year after starting off as the backup, and was eventually forced out due to injury.

“I started Week 2, Week 4, Week 5, and then a few series into Week 5 I got hurt and I was done for the year,” said Snider, who later had this quote on the QB situation, “We started with three quarterbacks, and finished the season with a receiver playing quarterback.”

Snider was a product of Saskatoon Minor Football thanks to his last year of high school football in Kerrobert being taken away by the pandemic, and like Orobko, was forced to adjust to a less open field than what he was used to playing 6-man.

“If I didn’t play my Grade 12 at the academy, I would have had to start fresh, so that year was very beneficial to my success in the CJFL I’d say,” said Snider, “It’s a way different game out there.”

Major differences from high school for the young quarterbacks include easy facts such as the six more players on the field to contend with, and then the more minute details that come with being a quarterback. Reading the defense instead of trusting your athletes getting up to the ball, and making smart decisions with the ball in general is something that a quarterback needs if they have hopes of continuing on at a higher level. 

Snider is knowledgeable enough with football that pivoting playbooks wasn’t a huge hurdle, so just remembering the moment and trying to execute became the key focus for Clark this season. 6-man quarterbacks go from having five teammates on the field with them at a time, to five options to throw the ball to on any given play.

“Picking up the playbook wasn’t hard, just different.”

Canadian Junior Football Leaguevia CJFL on Facebook

Orobko and Snider shared a similar path to the league though they are at different career points, playing in very different conferences. The Prairie Football Conference, British Columbia Football Conference, and Ontario Football Conference all represent the same level of play, though the talent in each league does seem to vary. The PFC was held out of the Canadian Bowl this year, though they are the presumptive favourites every year, and a 37-0 beat-down from Langley against London was more than enough to prove the BCFC’s mite compared to the OFC out east.

It would be tough to compare who is further ahead at this point because of the difference in competition, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see both of the young quarterbacks have a future in the junior game after their small sample sizes this year.

These athletes are likely gearing up for another increased opportunity in 2022 in their respective leagues, and West Central Online will continue to monitor the football talent primed to lead the next wave of players from Saskatchewan into the next level. More west central players playing junior this year include fellow Kerrobert athlete Jacob Ambros at receiver for the Hilltops, and Kindersley graduate Declan Smit, who saw some time as the starting punter this year while teammates with Snider in Kamloops.

If a great run this season for the Roughriders, a Saskatchewan dominated roster for the Huskies, and more football players moving onto the next level from west central than ever before don’t at least hint at the fact prairie football is potentially entering a strong stretch; I guess we will just have to find out.