Zenon Orobko entered this season with the Regina Thunder knowing the talent in front of him on the QB depth chart, but a few chances so far this season to show out on the football field has certainly led to the Unity native having a memorable CJFL season. Regina is the only undefeated team remaining in the Prairie Conference, and are widely considered to be the top junior team in the country so far this year.
Orobko has worked hard to start his football career, but his entrance into the sport was no doubt a product of his fathers love for the game. Pat Orobko was the main factor behind bringing football to town back when the family moved to Unity from Melfort. This was later evidenced by the fact that ‘Warrior Field’ in Unity officially became ‘Pat Orobko Field’.
Unity football went from nothing to an established program in a very short time thanks to the efforts of the Warriors patriarch. Being Pat’s son, Zenon always knew football would be an option as he grew up, but the memories he created at the eventual field honoured to his father are what ultimately grew his love for the game. In speaking with Zenon he shared his favourite high school memory, beating Kindersley under the lights in what was the leagues de facto championship game.
Orobko has appeared in each of the Thunder’s six games to start the season, posting 389 yards passing to go along with 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Orobko has been getting the extra looks thanks in part to the Thunder’s recent blowouts, but also because of the unavailability of starter Carter Shewchuk.
“The first two I played because we were up a lot,” said Orobko, “Game three (in Saskatoon) I got to play in because our starter was cramping, and then back here he actually hurt his shoulder so I played the entire fourth quarter.”
Both of those relief appearances came in very high leverage spots, as Orobko helped lead the Thunder to one score victories over the Hilltops in each game, making them lose two in a row after being winners of 30+ games dating back to 2017. Orobko wasn’t just a game manager in those big wins as well. He led his team down the field for the game winning field goal in Saskatoon 16-13, and clinched the game in the final minutes the next week in Regina with a 36 yard TD pass, fittingly to his roommate Isaiah Woodley to go up 30-28 and hang on for the win.
So not only has the Unity native been getting into the action, his appearances against Saskatoon helped play a key part in ending a lengthy Hilltops record two weeks in a row. Orobko would likely love for the team to be his, but he has such high praise for the starter and knows his time will come.
“Carter’s our starter, and he’s probably the best QB in the league.”
Regina is proving themselves a force to be reckoned with every week they don’t lose, with Orobko getting more and more meaningful time on the field as the season rolls on. Perhaps nothing could be more meaningful than being the winning quarterback in such a historic rivalry when it comes Hilltops/Thunder.
“I kind of think of it like Yankees/Red Sox. Two teams that are just really strong, but the Yankees have always just kind of had it. Not to say the Red Sox are bad, but the Yankees were always just winning and now the script is flipped a little bit.”
The Hilltops have the glamour and hardware other programs like the Thunder might not. Despite this though Regina is still one of the most respected teams in the Prairie Conference and CJFL in general, as they have a proven track record when it comes to moving players onto the next level.
“Often we send guys after 2-3-4 years to play university,” said Orobko on the Thunder program, “Like Logan (Ferland) is playing in the CFL right now. Our kicker is probably going to get practice rostered by the Riders, we’ll have a couple more guys that do something after. Every year we send somebody to USports. (Hilltops) they will more so get guys for 5 years, and that’s kind of it. It’s not that one is better than another, but we are not their B-team. Every game we play against them is usually within one score.”
Who’s to say which win was bigger in Orobko’s eyes, but the latter certainly brought the better atmosphere. Not only did the Thunder’s second win in as many weeks against Saskatoon break their road win-streak record as well, it was played on the largest football stage in Saskatchewan.
“Until we beat them when we went there, they had won like 33 straight or something,” recalled Orobko, who says the fact the win came on Mosaic Stadium turf didn’t even hit him till later, “It was pretty surreal. I wasn’t even thinking about that at the time, that was honestly the best thing for me just going into the game and not having time to put pressure on myself.”
“Definitely looking back; it was at Mosaic Stadium, against the 6 time defending national champs, you’re down and then you score a touchdown? Thinking about that it doesn’t feel real.”
Some people might not believe Orobko when he says the moment didn’t get to him, but he understands more than anybody the mentality needed to come in for relief. Backup goalie in hockey might be the only comparable role, but as a Unity native who loves his baseball, another baseball reference helped him sum it up perfectly.”
“I was struggling early, went 0 for my first 6, and just looking around like you know that no one else is going to do it. It’s all on you,” said Orobko, “Backup goalie is kind of it for that, or maybe a 9th inning closer but there really is no comparison.”
The first half of the season has shown the Thunder exactly what Orobko can do when put in the situation of relief. He should continue to get looks the rest of this season as the Thunder look like true contenders, but he is more than willing to be a QB2 on a successful and so far undefeated team. Orobko is just another player in Regina ready to trust the process of coach Scott MacAulay.
According to the young player a main theme this season in the Thunder locker room has been following the progress of team alumni Logan Ferland on the Saskatchewan Roughriders offensive line. The CJFL stud turned starting rookie lineman in the CFL is the coaches “gold standard” according to Orobko, when it comes to building players that can make it to the next level.
Regina proved their mite with back to back wins against the Edmonton Huskies, and will be in Edmonton next week after a thanksgiving bye before finishing the regular season against Calgary on October 24th. After their wins knocked off the Hilltops from the number one spot in Canada, the Thunder hope to retain their ranking as the #1 CJFL team and keep going on a historic season with the two games remaining before playoffs.