Second-year Manitoba Bisons receiver Tristen Hutter has carved out an exceptional tackle football career. A former Division 1 All-Star with St. Paul’s, he turned heads with his vast catch radius, playmaking ability, maturity and leadership skills. And while he’s made a name for himself in a helmet and pads, Hutter’s roots in the sport can actually be traced to flag football.

“One thing that makes flag football great in Manitoba is that they start you at a young age. I played when I was seven, before tackle football was available for children. Starting you at a young age really springs those developmental skills and helps nurture athleticism as you grow up,” he says.

“I think flag football is an excellent thing for children, because it’s a non-contact sport. For parents that may be worried about their kid getting hurt at a young age, it’s a safe way to introduce them to football.”

Hutter played in the Football Manitoba flag league with the same group of friends from age eight all the way until grade 11. The older he got, the more he began to appreciate flag – a spring sport – as a “pre-season” to tackle. It allowed him to “shake off the rust” from the winter and fine-tune his receiving and route-running abilities.

The well-spoken pass catcher enjoyed playing flag so much, that he tried out for the province’s high-performance team. He made the U18 roster in both 2017 and 2018, travelling to BC and Halifax, respectively for nationals.

“It was a really cool experience because it showed me competition at a national level, something that I hadn’t really seen before because I didn’t take part in the Team Manitoba tackle teams,” Hutter says. “That’s great for kids, because they get some exposure if they’re looking to play post-secondary football.”
Team Manitoba’s 2018 roster ran the table, going 10-0 to claim the gold medal. It was a loaded group, a fair amount of whom had won a bronze medal the year prior. Along with Hutter, the offence included quarterback Jackson Tachinski, a future ANAVETS Bowl champ with the Vincent Massey Trojans and fellow Bison, as well as Herd teammates Vaughan Lloyd (Vincent Massey) and Payton Yakimishyn (St. John’s/Garden City), along with rangy Okanagan commit Justice Flett (Oak Park).

“Alongside that athleticism and skill, we had good chemistry. Vaughan had played with Jackson, and I had been around Jackson and had seen how he played. He’s one of the best quarterbacks to come out of that [2019] class, that’s no debate,” noted Hutter.
“We weren’t goofing around, but we were having fun, and that’s when we played our best, was when we weren’t stressed and were just out there doing what we loved, which was playing football. That love for the game helped us come together and bond.”

The playoffs proved to be particularly memorable. In wet conditions – including a downpour in the final against BC – Manitoba eked out two consecutive one-point victories to complete a perfect run. It was one of four total medals ‘Toba won at the 2018 tournament. They also claimed silver at the U16 male level, and bronze at both the female U16 and U18 levels.

Lessons learned playing flag
Hutter parlayed a spectacular summer into an even better fall. He led the Crusaders in receiving yards, scoring eight touchdowns while averaging an insane 18.7 yards per catch. He credits U18 assistant coach Eric Vincent, also a family friend, in part for his development.

During the tournament in Halifax, Hutter and Vincent were scouting one of the teams that they hadn’t faced yet. Vincent handed Hutter a piece of paper, and taught him a lesson about preparation.

“[Vincent] sits down with me and says ‘you watch those two receivers. I’m going to watch the others.’ The snap went, and I can’t recall what those two guys did. I think it was a slant route and a hitch route. He wrote that down on paper, and I saw that he was drawing the five guys and the formations, and he was drawing the routes themselves that I told him and the ones that he watched. He would draw out all of these plays, and he’d write a check mark every time they ran them,” recalled the receiver.

“He said ‘this is how you know, by me drawing and me observing and scouting, this is how you’re going to know what plays they’re going to do based on the formation.’ That was the moment where I really learned the importance of film study. He showed me that you can predict what’s going to happen based on studying tendencies. That was a big moment for me, because in high school, I watched film, but not to that extent, with an eye for detail.

I thank him for that, because now I know the importance of film study. Obviously with the Bisons, we do a lot of film study. We study at least an hour before practice every day with scouting reports, and it’s a big deal. If you know what your opponent is doing and you can make good predictions, then you have a good chance of countering those play. It gave me confidence knowing I could go back to my high school team and be a leader in my senior year.”

High performance flag has treated Hutter well. It’s taught him valuable life lessons that he still carries with him.

“We have a strong community. After you’ve aged out of the U18 program, you have PIT football, and you can play on a men’s team and have that competition and still have fun doing what you love. The early start helps with development and the tight-knit community brings everybody together. It’s also a great chance to learn competitive skills and important life skills. Life is a competition and it’s important to learn how to deal with that and learn how to thrive when the pressure is on.”