WAVERLY – Waverly football isn’t too happy and it might be hard from an outsider’s perspective to figure out why.
It isn’t crazy to think a team coming off a nine-win season and a berth in the state semi-finals, might feel a little full of itself heading into the coming season.
A program that has only missed the state playoffs once since 2014 could be excused for getting a big head.
This Vikings team comes into 2019 with preseason top-10 ratings from both major newspapers in the state, yet the Vikings and new head coach Reed Manstedt are coming into the season with a chip on their shoulder.
“The way we look at it right now is we think people are overlooking us,” Manstedt said.
It’s not hard to see why outside observers would discount this year’s team. Gone are consensus all-state picks Logan Schuelke and Rhett Jordon.
The small and speedy Kaleb Canoyer and star lineman Cade McKibben have graduated as well.
Along the line, the Vikings will have to break in four new starters. The one remaining is sophomore Trevor Brown. Manstedt said Brown will anchor the line from his left tackle spot.
Brown, listed at 6’2” and 260 lbs., looks the part of a typical Nebraska road grader.
“He has really taken that leadership role and ran with it and that’s been fun to see,” Manstedt said about Brown.
Joining Brown with his hand in the dirt will be sophomore Jacob Krauter and senior Ian Steinmeier.
The offensive line will be paving the way for what looks like an extremely athletic set of skill players.
Senior Mason Nieman, who started at safety last year, will replace Jordon and lead the Viking offense at quarterback.
“Mason played some wide receiver for us last year because he was such a good athlete. We had to get him on the field,” Manstedt said about his new quarterback.
Nieman’s feet were never in question, Manstedt said, but coming into fall camp there were some worries about Nieman’s arm.
“(Nieman) has done nothing but impress in fall camp,” Manstedt said. “He’s doing some really good things in the passing game.”
When it comes time to air it out, Nieman will throw to one of the three returning offensive starters, senior Noah Stoddard.
The explosive Stoddard, who had four touchdowns on special teams last year, will be joined out wide by senior Haven Piening.
In the backfield, there will still be a Canoyer in maroon but it will be junior Evan Canoyer.
The younger Canoyer is already listed as larger than his older brother was his senior year. Canoyer, senior Ethan Kastins and junior Zane Schawang, will split carries in offensive coordinator Brian Benson’s power spread attack.
“Mason and those three guys (Canoyer, Kastins and Schawang) have an opportunity to be really special,” Manstedt said. “The biggest thing is making sure we distribute the football and get them all touches.”
On the other side of the ball, the defense will take advantage of its athleticism on the outside and look to force the opposing offenses into mistakes with constant pressure.
“We’re not going to be a sit-and-react defense, we’re going to be a very in your face, aggressive defense,” Manstedt said.
He should know, Manstedt is in charge of calling the defense and isn’t at all worried about exposing his defensive backfield to potential one-on-one situations.
“We got about six young men who I feel confident with, in the back half,” Manstedt said about his defensive backs. “They’re going to be put on islands quite a bit.”
Helping out a young, athletic backfield will be two returning senior starters at linebacker.
Mike Larsen and Barrett Skrobecki will be the men applying the pressure and roaming sideline to sideline for the Vikings.
Brown and Steinmeier will likely headline a defensive line that will feature many as Manstedt aims to keep pressure high and intensity up.
The Vikings’ schedule will present a number of chances to prove their doubters wrong.
Four teams rated higher in the Omaha World-Herald ratings are on the schedule.
It starts Aug. 30, when the Vikings look to avenge a 27-35 loss to #7 Seward.
Two weeks later on Sept. 13, Waverly hosts #6 Omaha Roncalli.
Sept. 27, the Vikings will hit the road for a match-up with intra-county rivals, the #4 Norris Titans. In last year’s clash the Vikings won 48-16.
Perhaps the biggest chance to silence any critics and even get one up on last year’s team comes Oct. 11 when Omaha Skutt comes to Waverly.
Skutt, the preseason #1 and last year’s undefeated state champion, handed the 2018 Vikings two of their three losses including the season ending loss in the playoffs.
In the end, Manstedt said, it’s about creating a culture at Waverly that can’t be overlooked in the future.
“That’s where we want to be as a program,” Manstedt said. “Somebody other teams look at and say ‘They’re going to be there at the end. You’re going to have to go through Waverly to get what you want to accomplish.’”