Thunderbirds lean on all-purpose star in pursuit of Canada West playoff spot


Thunderbirds receiver Trivel Pinto tops UBC in receptions (27), reception yardage (357), touchdown catches (three) and all-purpose yards (632), despite missing a game due to an undisclosed injury.

Blake Nill’s face-to-face compliment was one thing for Trivel Pinto. It became decidedly next level when UBC’s head football coach started throwing it out there publicly.

“He had told me personally and it was great,” Pinto, the T-Birds’ star receiver and return man, said of coach Nill’s declarations that Pinto could be the top pick in the 2019 CFL draft, “and then he started using it in the media and I was like, ‘Whoa, he really believes that.’

“It caught me off guard when he started doing that. He really does think that highly of me. You want your coach to believe in you. It’s a good feeling.”

Pinto, a third-year pass catcher from Brampton, Ont., is one of the players that Nill will need to come through down the stretch if the TBirds are going to do damage in the U Sports football playoffs.

UBC (3-2) has three games left in the Canada West regular season heading into a Saturday visit (6 p.m.) to the Saskatchewan Huskies (2-3), and Nill’s bunch are tied with the Regina Rams (3-2) for second place, trailing the Calgary Dinos (5-0). The top four teams make the Canada West post-season.

UBC is at the Manitoba Bisons (1-4) on Oct. 21, and then wraps up league play hosting Regina on Oct. 28.

Pinto tops UBC in receptions (27), reception yardage (357), touchdown catches (three) and allpurpose yards (632) despite missing a game with an undisclosed injury. He’s third in Canada West in all-purpose yards per game (158) and sixth in reception yards per game (89.3).

“He’s a pretty special kid,” Nill said of the six-foot, 195-pound Pinto. “Every team is gunning for him. They know what he brings and he’s still making things happen.

“He’s one of the better players in the country and it’s up to us, as coaches, to manage him well. It’s up to us, as coaches, to match him up well. We do that, and you’re going to see even more out of him.”

Pinto is one of the holdovers from UBC’s 2015 Vanier Cup national champions. Another was supposed to be receiver/return man Marcus Davis, but Nill confirmed this week that he’s been shut down for the season with a left knee injury. It’s the second straight campaign that he’s had his year come to an early end due to an issue with that knee.

Davis played in just two games this season. He led UBC in all-purpose yards (135.5 per game) during their Vanier Cup campaign.

It means that Pinto will certainly continue to be a focal point of the offence. His best game this season, oddly enough, was a 31-10 win over Saskatchewan on Sept. 16 at Thunderbird Stadium, before a Homecoming Weekend crowd of 9,542.

Pinto finished with 243 all-purpose yards, including 10 catches for 166 yards. He had a 23-yard touchdown catch in that group.

He admits, though, that “even in the Saskatchewan game, I thought I could do more.” That gives you an idea of why Nill is so high on him.

“It was my best game on offence of the season, but I still don’t think I lived up to what I can accomplish,” said Pinto.

“I left the game thinking that there’s a lot more I’m leaving out there.”

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