© Times-Herald photo by Matthew Gourlie
Rylan Blacklaws goes back to make a pass at a Vanier practice earlier this week,
High school sports can be very cyclical.
The Vanier Vikings know that well.
In wasn’t long ago that the Vikings had back-to-back winless football seasons. As those teams grew and matured they ended up posting back-to-back 6-0 regular seasons. That group capped off their rise with a league title in 2011.
Now new head coach Ryan Gottselig is looking to start anew as he takes over from Doug Panko who remains on staff as one of his assistants.
“None of this is surprising,” said Gottselig. “We had two huge years of Grade 12 classes with some pretty special kids. We knew this was coming down the pipe.”
They also know how quickly it can turn around. A winless year in 2008 turned into a .500 record the next season and in 2010 and 2011 they didn’t lose a regular season game. That group achieved great things in their high school careers and five of them have subsequently moved on to play in the CIS.
Brandin Cannon, Keegan Arnyek, Cassidy Follensbee and Matt Morris are all playing for the Saskatchewan Huskies, while Mike Stefanovic with with the Regina Rams. Follensbee and Morris were key members of the team a year ago and all five were instrumental in the team’s 2011 city title win.
“It’s kind of the same deal. When Stefanovic and Arnyek and those guys were in Grade 9 they walked into the same situation,” said Gottselig. “It’s just a matter of battling this year and I think it will come around.”
Gottselig doesn’t have a lot of men to go to war with right now, but he is hoping they will be able to add some more bodies after the school year began this week. The Vikings began practicing with 27 players and only have two Grade 12s.
“That’s the theme of the year — we just have to battle and battle and battle,” said Gottselig. “I said that from day 1. We have a ton of guys in new spots. They basically battled to earn their spot and then we go to work together.
“We’re going to get better all year. It’s one of those years where we’re starting really raw. When it comes together I think we’ll be really improved down the stretch. We have to put the work in.”
Rylan Blacklaws is slotting into the quarterback role after playing a lot of receiver last year. Drew Nimegeers will be a key piece on offence, though he may be deployed in some different ways. That might be a theme on offence as they try to see who fits best in which role.
“Jackson Klein we’ve been moving into a few different spots and he’s been looking good. Kelton Kouri, a Grade 10 kid, is getting some reps in some different spots. That’s what it’s going to be, moving guys around and seeing where they excel,” said Gottselig.
“We’re going to have to be creative. We’re going to have to do some smoke-and-mirrors stuff. You have to be a little more creative and that can be fun. Especially when the kids buy in and the ones that have been out have been doing that.”
Gottselig is hoping that the defence will be a strength of the team. He notes that they have some depth in the secondary and while they don’t have a lot of size up front, he feels they have enough to be effective if they can be aggressive.
“I think we’re going to be pretty good on defence. Matt Stefanovic is coming into his own as a D-lineman. He came back in really good shape and I think he’s ready to take on more of a leadership role,” said Gottselig. “Linebackers wise Adam Helland has looked really good and Drew is going to play on that side of the ball too.”
There is a lot of work to be done, but Gottselig is excited about his team and their future.
“It’s going to be challenging. Our Grade 11s, I’ll line the up with anyone,” he said. “I’m pumped about our Grade 11s. We have a huge group and they’re pretty talented.”