Last month, Simcoe County Football (SCF) released its list of the top 50 offensive and defensive players for the Simcoe County Athletic Association (SCAA) 2019 season.
Three local standout players made it inside the top 25, including Orillia Secondary School (OSS) wide receiver Luke Sallows.
The 17-year-old, Grade 12 Sallows recorded 525 yards on 62 receptions and found the end zone four times for the Nighthawks during the regular season. As a result, the SCF ranked him the 24th-best offensive player.
“It was nice to be ranked and I expected it because of the season I had,” Sallows said.
Last season, only one Nighthawk cracked the top 50, so for Sallows, being ranked in the top 25 is a huge feat.
“Being ranked 24 is a good accomplishment, but next year I want to be No. 1,” he said.
The Orillia native is planning on returning to OSS next year and will once again play football with the Nighthawks.
Sallows is committed to being ranked higher on next year’s top 50, and is preparing for the season by training with CFL Hall of Fame punter and placekicker Hank Ilesic, who operates a training facility in Orillia.
Nighthawks teammate Riley Sampson also landed at number 24 — on the other side of the ball, on defence.
The Grade 12, 17-year-old linebacker had four interceptions and one forced fumble in the six-game season. Despite his standout season, Sampson didn’t expect to see himself on the top-50 list.
“It felt amazing to be named to that list. I was pretty surprised, I’m not going to lie,” Sampson said.
Although Sampson was thrilled to be named to the list, he was upset to see some of his fellow Nighthawks snubbed.
“I do feel like there were other players on our team who deserved it — Jack Harwood and Rhys Hawke — because they were also pretty dominant and big forces on our defence, but I was honoured to make the list,” Sampson said.
Unlike Sallows, Sampson won’t be back with the Nighthawks as a player for the 2020 season as he will graduate from OSS later this summer and will head to Georgian College in Barrie to take the pre-health program. However, if he has enough spare time, Sampson hopes to return to the team as a coach.
“Our school has always been low on coaches and it’s a big part of the reason why we’ve struggled to even have a team lately,” said Sampson. “We had a good group of Grade 11s last year and an OK group of Grade 10s, so our team shows some potential for the next years and it would be nice to contribute to our school to give them a chance at a championship."
The rebuilding Nighthawks program finished with a 2-4 record last season and lost in the first round of the playoffs in a nail bitter against Collingwood Collegiate Institute.
Topping the list of the 50 best offensive players is Toronto native William McCulloch, who played wide receiver for Eastview Secondary School in Barrie.
The 18-year-old spends his weekends in the fall watching football with his dad in Orillia, and he dominates the gridiron during the week in Barrie with the Wildcats.
McCulloch had 15 touchdowns and more than 1,000 yards receiving in the regular season, leading the league in both categories. He also broke the receiving yards and touchdown records at Eastview.
Even though ranking McCulloch No. 1 was a no-brainer for the SCF, it was still a huge honour for the Grade 12B student.
“It’s something I share with my teammates and all the people I’ve grown up playing football with,” he said.
At the beginning of the season, being ranked at No. 1 was a goal for McCulloch.
“I set goals for myself. I set the expectations for myself really high. I figured that at the end of the season, with all the work I put in and how it all paid off ,that I would definitely get that spot,” he said.
McCulloch’s path to being the No. 1 ranked player in Simcoe County consisted of a lot of time and hard work.
“I’m in the gym six days a week for at least three hours a day. I played basketball in previous years, but this year I strictly focused on football and poured everything I have into it,” he said.
McCulloch’s Wildcats finished the regular season a perfect 6-0, but they just fell short of the SCAA championship this year, losing to Barrie North Collegiate Institute in the finals.
With McCulloch’s high school career over, it’s on to the next goal for him.
“I really fell in love with the sport this year and I want to make it my career. I want to play football for as long as I can. I want to play in the CFL (Canadian Football League),” McCulloch said.
He is in the process of visiting universities around the province looking for the one that fits him best, all while putting in the work to become the Ontario University Athletics football rookie of the year.
You can find the full Simcoe County Football top 50 offensive and defensive player rankings here.