There’s a new head football coach and new personnel in the backfield.
But with Waverly’s offensive coordinator from the past four seasons, Brian Benson, still on the staff, the Vikings have basically picked up where they left off after the 2018 season with their lethal running game.
Triggered by senior quarterback Mason Nieman, the Class B No. 4 Vikings have rushed for 630 yards in their 2-0 start with wins over preseason No. 5 (now No. 9) Seward 28-7 in the opener and a 34-20 road win at pass-happy Bennington last Friday.
“I didn’t see any reason to come in here and make a lot of changes offensively,” said first-year Waverly coach Reed Manstedt, who held the same position at Crete the previous four seasons. “Coach Benson does a great job with the offense, the kids are comfortable with it and it fits the personnel we have.”
Waverly graduated two all-state, 1,000-yard rushers off last year’s 9-3 team that reached the state playoff semifinals — quarterback Rhett Jordon (now at Northwest Missouri State) and running back Kaleb Canoyer (now a wrestler at Nebraska-Kearney).
It’s been a successful transition from wide receiver to quarterback for Nieman, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound senior who has a team-high 224 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. He had 23 carries for 179 yards last Friday against the Badgers.
He’s also been efficient passing, completing 8 of 12 throws for 63 yards.
For Nieman, who also plays safety and linebacker on defense, he’s a little more sore on Saturdays than he was as a wide receiver, but it’s worth the price of being more involved offensively.
“I don’t mind the pounding, it’s kind of fun,” said Nieman, who is being recruited by North Dakota State as a linebacker, by South Dakota State and South Dakota as a wide receiver and by Nebraska as an athlete.
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“We’re a run-first team, and we trust our guys on the offensive line will pick up the blocks and give us room to run.”
Canoyer’s younger brother, Evan, is part of the stable of running backs getting the ball from Nieman. Evan Canoyer, a 5-8, 180-pound junior who also plays fullback, has 183 yards and five TDs this season. Another junior, 5-10, 160-pounder Zane Schawang, has picked up 157 yards and reached the end zone once.
Even though Evan is 5 inches taller than his older brother and 25 pounds heavier, “Kaleb liked to run over people with his low center of gravity, and I like to try to put a few moves on and avoid tacklers,” said Evan, a Class B state wrestling runner-up at 170 pounds this past winter as a sophomore. “I like it when we go to our two-back set because I enjoy blocking; it’s the best part of football.”
The running game is ignited by an offensive line that includes a pair of seniors in left guard Mike Larsen (5-10, 205) and right guard Ian Steinmeyer (6-1, 220), and three sophomore starters — left tackle Trevor Brown (6-3, 260), center Wyatt Fanning (5-10, 210) and right tackle Jacob Krauter (6-1, 235). The tight end is junior Tyztin Hoos.
“These guys have done a good job controlling things up front and getting our running game going,” Manstedt said. “The fact we start three sophomores is a sign of good things to come.”
For the second straight week, Waverly will be using its ball control running game as a defense to keep the ball away from a powerful passing attack.
Bennington’s Nick Bohn was 39-of-67 for 377 yards and three TDs against Waverly on Friday. Now the task for the Viking defense will be slowing down Omaha Roncalli’s Jack Dotzler, the senior standout quarterback who threw for 294 yards and four TDs in the third-ranked Crimson Pride’s competitive 42-34 loss to No. 1 Omaha Skutt on Friday.
“Their quarterback is a terror and their receivers are as good as we’ll see all year,” Manstedt said of the Roncalli offense. “It will be a challenge.”