The success of another H. J. Cody Lakers football season was celebrated with a banquet and awards ceremony last Thursday.
While they didn’t win the championship, Coach Jeremy Braitenback said it was a successful season. “We completed this year within four points of the eventual champions. There are a lot of things to be proud about — one of the best things is that Notre Dame didn’t win.”
The evening began with a video of the season created by Diana Zenert with photos from Carol Cire, Gary Zenert and Jan Lewis. (It’s accessible on YouTube through the Sylvan Lake Football Facebook page.)
Incredible, great, passionate, strongest. leader, awesome, extraordinary talent, respect, desire to win, raw intensity, giant heart, coachable, play maker, ability and huge contributor were among the words used to acknowledge players as each was individually singled out for praise from their coaches before awards were presented to the best of the best.
Then a video titled “Run for the Roses”, directed and produced by Neil Connor, about Jeff Halvorson’s football career, was shown. Connor was a student at The Centre for Arts and Technology in Kelowna in 2011 and an alumni of the Lakers.
Halvorson had a Sylvan Lake connection and the Lakers for a number of years have presented the Jeff Halvorson trophy which acknowledges someone who is not just a great football player but also a great citizen.
Then it was announced that the Defensive Player of the Year award had been renamed in Neil Connor’s memory. He died last year.
Connor was described as a pioneer during the Lakers early days, a standout player who led in a lot of categories. “He was one of the ones who transformed our program from a team to a powerhouse,” said Braitenback.
Neil Connor Sr., attending for the first presentation of the award, said that while there was a lot of things he didn’t see eye-to-eye with his son, “one of the things we didn’t argue about what how much fun the game of football truly is to play”.
He thanked Sylvan Lake Minor Football Association and the coaches for “honouring Neil’s memory in this fashion”.
The first recipient was Josh Barrie, who Coach Rick Dunnigan described as “an instrumental part of the defense. He plays with an edge, he plays mean. He made big plays, made big hits”.
Most improved honours went to Trent Kondor, described by Braitenback as a person who dedicated himself to getting prepared in the off season and stepping up to play. “We relied on him on both sides of the ball and on special teams. He rose to the challenges we gave him.”
Landon Rosene was presented with the rookie of the year trophy by Coach Jeremy Martins who said he was “a great little player, not big in stature” who “takes a hit with the best of them and plays with heart”.
Coach Jas Payne presented the lineman of the year award to TJ Sloboda. “He could have been on the field for every single minute of every single play, he’s the most talented individual I ever had the pleasure of being associated with. He plays with a giant heart and talent to match,” said Payne. “He’s a lineman who when he was on the field made every other lineman better.”
Shon Zenert was presented with the offensive player of the year award by Braitenback who was subbing for Quarterback Coach Matt Merkley. “This award goes to the player who really endured, got us tough yards, led our team in rushing. At one point he made every player on the defense miss.”
The Jeff Halvorson trophy was presented to Morgan Drews by Dunnigan. “It’s based not just on ability on the field but the character of the player off and on the field. He’s one of the best citizens I know. Academically he excels. When it comes to being there for other players he will step up and volunteer, he’s well respected by all other players. He leads by example.”
The leadership award was presented to Sebastian Kneitl by Payne. While he didn’t work with this player much during the season, Payne said, “Over the course since the football season ended, through numerous conversations, he has shown me what it means to be a true leader. He’s very well respected, not just because of his very physical play and high level of ability, but because he is truly concerned about the team, concerned about what is happening in the community and in school. As far as leadership potential he is unparalleled.”
Tyler Ledwos was presented the most valuable player award by Braitenback. He noted that in looking at the names of past winners on the trophy there’s only one repeat — tonight’s winner. “He’s a tremendous leader, the identity of who the Lakers are. He gives you a lot of options of what we can do with offense.”
Braitenback said, “he’s the most talented player in the 16 years I’ve coached, probably the best player we’ve ever had. The one thing I really want to see is you go forward in football.”
Noting Ledwos is doing the right thing, Braitenback added, “I want to pay money and come and see you hoist the Vanier Cup, the Grey Cup someday.”
Also recognized with presentations were team trainers Kaylee Campbell and Rebecca Lieng and team manager Pam Marchesi.
Braitenback thanked the senior players for putting “the time and effort in to make this program what it is”.
Then he left them with one of the “great secrets to life” — “Don’t play to win, practise to win” which translates to “nothing comes easy”.
For those players returning next season, he encouraged them to continue getting ready.
Spring camp begins in about two months.