Morning Star Staff
The No. 1 Vernon Panthers face the Ballenas Whalers in B.C. Subway Senior AA varsity football playoff action Saturday (11 a.m.) at the Greater Vernon Athletics Park with an Interior Conference-high seven all-stars.
Heading the list is Defensive Player of the Year Ben Hladik, who claimed the same title in 2015 as a Grade 11. Ben’s brother, Bradley Hladik, took the Top Grade 11 Defensive Player following a superb season at cornerback.
Other Cats all stars were: Dawson Horvath (linebacker), Josh Hyer (defensive end), Tyler Riva (D tackle), Riley Bos (tailback) and Joel Vandeleest (offensive line).
“I have been very fortunate to have had a lot of good athletes step on the field for me the past few years and the 2016 squad was no different,” said VSS head coach Sean Smith. “We were able to go undefeated this season because we not only have the seven boys that were chosen as all-stars, but we also have a supporting cast that was strong as well”
Smith says Ben Hladik “had maybe the best season of any Panther I have ever coached, this year. He will be a leading candidate for the Defensive Player of the Year in B.C. AA football.”
Bradley Hladik was a sweet surprise for Smith.
“He converted to defensive back at the coaches’ request and has been outstanding despite trying to learn a new position. He had more interceptions than catches on him this season.”
Smith noted that Hyer “was the best edge rusher in the league and is also very solid in run support. Teams didn’t have much success running his way this year.”
On Riva, Smith said: “He has put together a great season at defensive tackle. He is stout and has a very quick burst for a big man. He has made running up the middle on us very tough.”
Smith said Horvath stepped into the linebacker role due to injuries to both starting inside backers.
“He picked up the position quickly and is very good at reading and diagnosing plays.”
Bos made huge strides as a tailback.
“He has learned to follow his blockers and run north-south and that has made him the top running back in the league. He is tough as nails and plays with fire.”
Smith said Vandeleest worked hard to master the O line techniques necessary to become an all star.
“He’s always had the size but this year has learned to use his size and leverage in both pass pro and run blocking. He is a big reason why we threw for so many yards this season.”
The Parksville-based Whalers boast a fast QB in Ben Robinson and are ranked No. 5 in the province.