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Regina Thunder rushing to nationals

And this, ladies and gentleman, is why defensive players wake up with bruises./ Colton Klassen
And this, ladies and gentleman, is why defensive players wake up with bruises./ Colton Klassen

RB running roughshod over the CJFL

Author: Alex Antoneshyn — Contributor

Colton Klassen, number 38 on the Regina Thunder roster, is just one part of what Global News has called a “potent offense” – and they have reason to do so. Heading into the team’s fourth game against the Saskatoon Hilltops on Sept. 5, the nineteen-year old running back is nearing five hundred yards rushing and has scored four touchdowns. Simply put, Klassen has had an impressive start to the season.

And he hopes to finish similarly.

“[Obviously], to win the national title is the main goal… as for personal goals, I’d like to rush for over a thousand yards,” Klassen was quick to respond.

The athlete’s football career began when he was only eight-years old and didn’t see the immediate success of his junior-level experience.

“I actually got cut the first two years I tried out, so I didn’t [start] playing until I was about ten.”

Beginning with the minor football league in Saskatoon (where he grew up), then playing for the Holy Cross Crusaders, the athlete will enter the 2015 season as a second-year player.

Pursuing football as the sport in which he found the most success and joy, Klassen attended several winter camps for the Saskatoon Hilltops, but felt welcomed by the coaching staff in Regina.

“Every camp, they talked to me [and] kept in contact – emails, texts, phone calls,” Klassen recalled, saying that the decision to come to Regina was easily made.

The athlete joined the team in the midst of an upswing. In 2013, the Regina Thunder – for the first time in the team’s history – won both the PFC and Canadian Bowl titles. The following year, the team lost out at the conference semi-final but this running back has faith in his seasoned teammates. In fact, that’s what differentiates this season from last.

“Last year, we had a good team, but this year, I think we have a lot more veterans starting now – [everyone’s] gonna get better with age, people are more comfortable with the plays. [For] example, we’re running [the] ball a lot better this year than we have in past years and I’d say that’s because we have a more veteran line that knows what’s going on… when you’re more veteran, you have more confidence because you feel you have a better skillset than other players and when you have more confidence, you usually play better.”

But that confidence doesn’t come undeservingly. Prior to the season’s start, Klassen prepared by working out, respecting the nourishment his body required to perform at peak potential, and training for the upcoming year, all with the hope of seeing results in the form of a national victory at the end of the season.

Considering his remarkable start to the year, Klassen is well aware that he will have to continue working hard if he wants to remain successful, but also that the team’s success takes priority over personal achievement.

“I’m going to try my best to continue with the pace I’m at, but at the end of the day, it’s ‘do what’s best for the team’ – not myself – so if that means getting no rushing yards and being more involved in blocking and running pass routes, then that’s what I’ll do.”

The Regina Thunder are heading into the Sept. 5 game against the Saskatoon Hilltops 3-0, and Klassen believes they’ll pull through with another win.

“I’m pretty confident,” he said, speaking of the upcoming game. “I have confidence in our team that we’re going to come out strong.” (Editor’s Note: The Thunder lost 35-17)

While his next words were still in reference to the mental preparation for Saturday’s game, they are dually applicable to the Thunder’s quest for the national championship: “[At] the end of the day, there’s twelve of them, twelve of us, and there’s just one-on-one battles throughout the field and if we can win more of those one-on-one battles than them, then I think we’ll be just fine.”

If this is the attitude with which the Thunder men approach nationals, focusing not on the big trophy but celebrating each achievement that eases their progress to the end, and in combination with their seasoned athletes, the Regina Thunder may just see the national cup once more. And according to Klassen, nationals are in the team’s future – barring injuries, of course.

“The only [obstacle] right now [is that] some guys are nicked up – but that’s going to happen in the game of football,”. What keeps him hopeful, despite the threat of losing “veteran” players to the infirmary, is that the team also boasts some talented newcomers. “As the season moves along, we have guys coming in [who] are very good rookies,” shared the running back – and it will be these young athletes who carry the team should more players be forced to the sidelines.

While the CJFL nationals are Klassen’s foremost focus, his future career is still a concern. Between games and training for the current season, Klassen is an online student through the University of Saskatchewan. Majoring in political studies, he swaps the virtual classroom for a real one when the football season finishes. However, continuing a professional football career is what Klassen wants for his future.

“After I’m done my junior career, [I’d] maybe pursue [the] CFL, but the end goal is to eventually play pro.” Like many other prairie-born footballers, Klassen would like to one day play for the Riders, “of course” – although he wouldn’t deny any other opportunities if they arose.

Whether we’re speaking about the immediate future and in terms of his Thunder career, or where Klassen will be five years from now, it is clear that this running back is one to keep your eye on.

While the Thunder lost in Saskatoon to the Hilltops, they get a chance at a rematch next Saturday at 7PM at Mosaic Stadium.

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