As the Saskatoon Hilltops prepare to host their final home game of the season, the Canadian Junior Football League (CJFL) national semi-final against the Vancouver Island Raiders, one receiver has a lot to be proud of.
Sam Mike has already won three Canadian Bowls and he’s a team captain. But it wasn’t always smooth sailing. When he first tried out in 2012, he was cut from the team.
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“I was right over there in that corner, I was talking to coach, our receiver coach Brent Stevens, and he’s like ‘you know we want to keep you and it’s kinda tough, these other guys are bigger than you…come back next year and see how it goes’ kind of thing,” said Mike at the Hilltops practice facility.
Tom Sargeant, who is completing his 20th season as head coach of the Hilltops, wasn’t a fan of the Holy Cross graduate.
“First two years, I didn’t want to keep Sam around, he always had the injury bug. I liked Sam, but he’d be inconsistent, didn’t make a lot of catches,” said Sargeant.
“I mean usually if you’re cut they bring in some really good talent here, so it’s really hard to make the team after you get cut,” added fifth year linebacker Tom Schnitzler.
But Mike, who stands five-foot 11-inches and weighs 186 pounds, wasn’t taking no for an answer.
“I was kinda tiny back then…compared to now, I’ve put on probably another 25 pounds, that probably influenced their decision. I thought I was good enough but you know, just kinda had to work hard and come back and kinda prove myself,” Mike said.
Jason Price remembers trying out for the Hilltops when Mike was trying to make the squad for a second time.
“As I’m trying out for the team, everybody seems to be cheering on Sam Mike and everybody kinda knows his name but he wasn’t on the team the year before, so I was a little confused as to why that is, but I never really asked him.”
Mike made the team, and is now one of their top receivers, with four touchdowns this season and 324 receiving yards.
“Credit to Sam, the last couple of year he’s been unbelievable. He’s our captain, he’s done everything right and he’s a great success story for the Hilltops. At the end of the day he shut me up, proved me wrong, and that’s the kind of players I want around here,” Sargeant added.
“Just thinking about back then, I never thought I’d be here, winning three national championships,” Mike said.
He and the Hilltops fifth-years are playing in their final game at SMF field on Sunday, as Saskatoon hosts the Raiders in a must-win playoff game.
“I’m pretty pumped, especially being a fifth year guy, I want to go out on top, we’ve been working hard all year so I’m pretty excited for it,” said the 22-year-old.
While no junior football team has ever claimed four national titles in a row, Mike knows, if you believe in it, you can make it happen.