A day at camp with… the Canby Lancers

CANBY – How will the Canby Lancers replace Wyatt Kraus?

The coaches and players of the Canby football team know the question is coming. It’s a question that has to be asked. And while in the first week of practice, it’s a question the Lancers still aren’t exactly sure how to answer.

A team can’t just replace a running back that led the state in rushing in 2012, a player that accounted for 65 percent of his squad’s total offense. The Lancers know they’re going to be a totally different team without Kraus and the rest of his senior class that helped lead Canby to a resurgent 6-4 season. But they also know they have some talented players who are eager to prove they can keep Canby football moving in the right direction.

“It’s exciting as a coach because I really don’t have an idea what kind of team we’re going to have,” Canby head coach Nick Kockelman said. “We’ll find out after the scrimmage, we’ll find out after the first couple of weeks.

“A lot of these guys just didn’t have an opportunity to play because they were behind such good athletes in the senior class, so I don’t feel like it’s a huge drop off; it’s just that these guys didn’t have the opportunity because they were behind all the talent we had last year.”

Canby didn’t just lose Kraus, who rushed for 2,180 yards and 21 touchdowns in 10 games last year. The Lancers also graduated his two blocking fullbacks (Tate Citrowske and Austin Campbell), who also happened to be two of the top linebackers in the Little Sioux Conference. Kockelman said the team only has two returning players who started both ways for the Lancers last year – receiver/defensive back Michael Slaba and lineman Corey Castell.

Slaba is the Lancers’ top returning offensive threat. He had over half of his team’s total receiving yards in 2012, finishing with 32 catches for 510 yards and seven touchdowns. Without a dominant back like Kraus rumbling over opposing defenses, Slaba anticipates a new look to Canby’s offense.

“We’re definitely not going to be able to just stack it up in the middle and run it down people’s throats,” Slaba said. “We’re going to try to catch some people off guard and spread them out and use some of our speed. We have a lot of speed this year.

“We obviously don’t have as much power without Kraus and the fullbacks, Tate and Austin. But we have Josh (Gallegos), an excellent quarterback, coming back and he’s going to try to throw the ball up and we’ll try to go get it. Spreading it out is really what we’ll try to do. That’s what the plan is so far, but who knows if it will change during the season.”

Gallegos fills the spot under center that was vacated by Michael Sisk, who threw for 1,004 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2012. He had just six pass attempts last year and is one of the players who had to wait for his chance in the spotlight.

“Last year was probably one of the better classes that has come out of Canby with all those seniors that played both sides of the ball,” Gallegos said. “This year we have a lot of new starters and a lot of new people that have never even stepped on the varsity field. It’s going to be exciting to watch and we’re going to see what happens.”

As for the group that will take the place of Kraus, Citrowske and Campbell in the backfield, Kockelman said he has a versatile group of players that can all play halfback or fullback. Senior Brett Hansen and junior Brock Nothem are two players expected to get carries, while sophomore Sawyer Kraus, Wyatt’s brother, will be primarily a blocking back.

Now in his fourth year at the helm, Kockelman is trying to impart a sense of confidence with his players that they can carry the torch and continue Canby’s climb as a program. And to achieve success, he said this new group has to be willing to work just as hard as last year’s strong senior core.

“We talked about it right away, we’ve got a lot to prove. Our theme is to just go out and prove it,” Kockelman said. “We graduated human beings and they did a lot for us, but we’re not graduating how we approach the game, our work ethic and all the things that we can control. That doesn’t go away and that’s what we’re focusing on.”