Every player on a football team has a role to fill, whether it's a star quarterback or a benchwarmer. The success of the team depends on how well each player fills his particular role as the squad works to become a cohesive unit.
As a senior captain for the Canby Lancers, Wyatt Kraus' role was nothing short of immense. After receiver Cole Brusven went down with a broken bone in his hand in the team's first game, Kraus became one of basically two offensive options for the Lancers. The other was receiver Michael Slaba, and slowing down a receiver in a two-horse offense isn't a challenge for most defenses.
For Canby to win, Kraus had to have a big game every Friday night. By rushing for 130-plus yards in nine of 10 games, including five games with over 200 yards, it's safe to say Kraus carried his weight, and then some. He accounted for 65 percent of his team's total offense, and his finally tally of 2,180 rushing yards in 10 games led the state of Minnesota (all classes).
Photo illustration by Aaron Schlemmer
"Everybody knew they had to step it up (when Cole went down) and I just tried my best and did what I could with the opportunities that I had," Kraus said.
Leading the state in rushing was just part of Kraus' huge role. The positive energy he provided for the Lancers was also a driving force that helped the Canby program bounce back from a disappointing 3-6 season in 2011 with a 6-4 year in 2012.
Obviously, his 21 touchdowns were critical to the team's success, but head coach Nick Kockelman said Kraus' attitude also had a major impact.
"To win football games, you can't have guys who are nagging at each other. He's just that unrelenting positive, consistent presence on the team," Kockelman said. "He even kept me from getting too down or too up, and I like to think of myself as rather level-headed. You just knew any time things were getting tough you could just look at him, the players would look at him, and he led by example.
"He was really the embodiment of the team we had this year and I think we played better than a lot of people probably thought we would."
It's easier to stay positive on the football field when you're always moving forward. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound back carried the ball 272 times during the 2012 season, which was over 50 rushes more than any other back in the area, and gained 8.0 yards per carry.
Kraus didn't do it with flashy moves or lightning speed. His style was that of a souped-up steamroller. Having spent many hours in the weight room in the offseason, he used his strength to plow over defenders, then used his quickness to break away for huge gains.
"In a lot of games, you could see defenses just get scared to tackle him," Kockelman said. "A guy would rather run parallel with him and tackle him from behind 30 yards downfield than meet him in the hole."
Added Kraus, "I always noticed that running towards the end of the game is a lot easier than running towards the beginning. I think that that has something to do with it, because after you run into them so many times I think that they just don't want to get hurt or run into you if you're the one giving out the punishment."
With his exceptional strength and durability, Kraus was able to put his team on his back in multiple games and carry the Lancers to victory. It also helped having two hard-nosed fullbacks (Tate Citrowske and Austin Campbell) who helped pave his way.
On Sept. 21 Canby found itself in a shootout with MACCRAY. While the Wolverines were slinging the ball through the air, the Lancers just kept handing the ball off to Kraus. He finished with 351 yards rushing with four touchdowns and also had a 70-yard touchdown reception in a 42-32 victory.
The win vaulted the Lancers to 4-0 on the season and fifth in the Class A rankings, a lofty position generally occupied by the likes of Little Sioux Conference heavyweights Dawson-Boyd and Minneota/Lincoln HI. Dominated by those two conference giants in recent years, the Lancers had a newfound confidence that they could hang with the Blackjacks and Vikings this season.
In their sixth game of the season, Canby played host to Minneota/Lincoln HI and fell behind 21-0. Behind 236 yards and two touchdowns by Kraus, Canby rallied, but came up just short in a 27-21 defeat.
The Lancers actually had a surprising 13-0 lead over Dawson-Boyd two weeks later thanks to a 52-yard touchdown reception and a 56-yard touchdown run by Kraus, but the powerful Blackjacks bolted ahead late in the second quarter and never looked back in a 56-22 win.
Canby and Dawson-Boyd met up again in the semifinals of the Section 5A playoffs, and this time the Blackjacks were ready for Kraus. They stacked the box with defenders and had six men on the line of scrimmage against the undersized Canby offensive line, holding Kraus to a season-low 78 yards on 20 carries in a hard-fought 23-7 Dawson-Boyd win.
It was a disappointing way for Kraus to end his career, a career in which he gained nearly 5,000 rushing yards to shatter Kockelman's previous record, but he said he was proud of the strides he and his team made.
"I think it takes a lot to compete with those schools because they're very very good, and I'd say we accomplished a lot by competing with them," Kraus said. "I wish we could have beat them, because playing those teams it just adds to the fuel and you know you want to beat those teams, especially."
The losses to those teams may have stung for a bit, but Kraus never let them get him or the team down. Like always, he just kept working to get stronger, get better, and keep moving forward.
"I just try having a good time because it's a sport I love playing, so I just try to have fun and keep a positive attitude," said Kraus, who would like to play football in college. "If people go negative, good things don't come out of it, your teammates don't like it, so I just try to always stay positive."