Since Jamie Peters was instrumental in getting a football program off the ground at Steinbach Regional Secondary School in 2010, growing the program into perennial Winnipeg High School Football League contenders, it is also a program that has produced an increasing numbers of players that are being recruited onto U Sports university teams.
The two most recent additions this fall to the University of Manitoba Bisons were two standouts from the Sabres, Payton Falk and Sawyer Thiessen.
Prior to that it was Isaac Dokken and Jayden Martens and the year before that it was receiver Eric Adams. That makes five players in the past three years that have been recruited to the Bisons.
Dokken, Martens, Falk and Thiessen can all be considered blue chip prospects for the Bisons, who recruit players from across the country for their programs. So when longtime Bisons’ coach Brian Dobie is able to recruit top prospects locally, such as these standouts from Steinbach, as well as others in the WHSFL, it is the route he prefers to take.
Although Dokken and Martens were recruited last year, and were practising with the Bisons this summer and fall, of course there was no U Sports season this year.
Sawyer Thiessen, was without question, the most sought after recruit in Manitoba coming out of this year’s graduating high school class. A starting quarterback for the Sabres when he was only in grade nine he immediately turned heads with his poise at such a young age as he developed into the premier quarterback in the WHSFL.
Payton Falk is a multi-dimensional player that his coaches have said that when it comes to football IQ, he sets the bar. Dobie says the Bisons are looking at Falk as a Sam linebacker. In high school, Falk played multiple positions, including quarterback, receiver, returner, defensive back, etc.
Thiessen says although there were other universities in the country that had talked to him, he felt that as time went on, the Bisons would be the best fit for him.
"I have been talking to Brian Dobie on a regular basis, we have been talking for a couple of years, and he has always kept me in the loop and stayed in touch."
Playing at home, the stadium and the Bisons facilities, not to mention the track record of Brian Dobie and the Bisons, he says were all factors in his decision. Not to mention to be part of a program that includes four of his teammates from the Sabres.
Cracking the Bisons line-up isn’t easy, it is a process that could take a couple of years. Des Catellier, entering his fifth and final year with the Bisons, will again be the starting quarterback this coming year, according to Dobie. So Thiessen will be one of four or five quarterbacks on hand with the Bisons that will be looking to fill that quarterback spot in the years to come.
"We have watched Sawyer since he was in grade nine, we watched him progress," said Dobie, "look at what he did for the Sabres, and on the national stage with the U18 team as a starting quarterback, he is a great athlete and players gravitate to him."
"Sawyer was a major recruit for us," said Dobie, underscoring the importance of him committing to the Bisons. "Sawyer and I really clicked, with his personality and character, he is my kind of guy."
Thiessen is also quick to praise the coaches he has had with the Sabres. "Coach Fedus (Sabres head coach Stephen Fedus), he is so smart, I have learned so much from him, our games are so well planned out, he has helped me so much."
As far as Payton Falk is concerned, Dobie said, "we have recruited him as a Sam linebacker, it is the single toughest position to recruit," and it also speaks to his football intelligence and the ability to retain information, which both Peters and Fedus alluded to.
"Payton is such a good athlete, he is a very gifted football player and is very smart, he picks things up very quickly," said Peters.
"He is talented, very coachable, loves football, is athletic, is intelligent and is a good student," is how Fedus described Falk.
Meanwhile, with Dokken and Martens having practiced with the Bisons over the summer, Dobie weighed in on those two recruits from last season. Jayden Martens, as a receiver, was often the go to guy for Sawyer Thiessen last season. "He has speed, height and a tremendous reach," said Dobie.
As far as Isaac Dokken is concerned. If Sawyer Thiessen was the top recruit coming out of high school this season, Isaac Dokken had that billing last year. A defensive machine, Dokken was considered the best all round player in the WHSFL last season.
"Isaac is a special player," said Dobie, "we are looking at him as a future middle linebacker for the Bisons, we expect him to be an outstanding U Sports player."
In talking about the success of the SRSS Sabres program over the years and now with several of those top players moving on to U Sports, Peters is quick to share the credit with others, "everyone has played a role. Most of these players learned the game with the Eastman Raider before they came to us. We had success in Division III and Division II and then Stephen Fedus took us to another level in Division I."