UTICA — The coach-speak around the weight room can get a little thick during football season. But, it’s mostly true that success is proportionate to offseason dedication.
Ask Evan Klanecky.
“I don’t think you’d find a coach in any sport who would tell you his team didn’t put in a great amount of work in the weight room,” the Centennial football coach said Tuesday as his team prepares for the Class C-2 football playoffs. “For us, it has been a staple.”
It’s been a staple of perfection for the Broncos this fall. They have been perfect with a 9-0 record. They are the top-seed in the Class C-2 playoffs that begin Friday. They have five of their wins against playoff teams. The Broncos are battle tested.
Play for Friday
Klanecky liked the possibilities for the 2016 version of the Broncos during summer conditioning. “But you just never know,” he said. “Then, when we beat Central City, our kids eyes opened up.”
In the first game in August, Centennial took down the preseason top-10 Bison 36-22. Those 22 points were the most they allowed all regular season. Another ranked team waited for week two. Centennial 14, Yutan 12.
“Then, you just kind of start taking it one week at a time,” Klanecky said. “At the end, we added them up and we were 9-0. Yes, we are pleasantly surprised, but our kids have done a good job of just playing for the next Friday.
“One of the hardest things as a coaching staff has been staying sharp and being prepared. We seem to get everybody’s best shot. Each week, we’ll see a defense or a new play that some team hasn’t shown on film all season.”
They kept going.
Centennial 26, playoff qualifier St. Paul 21. Centennial 13, pesky Shelby-Rising City 12. Centennial 39, playoff qualifier Cross County 14. Centennial 34, playoff qualifier Sutton 8. That’s just the final four games.
“We’ve had a few that were ugly,” Klanecky readily admitted.
The weight room, and this unbeaten season, has been a labor of love for Klanecky since he arrived here seven seasons ago. He also teaches physical education and health. The weight room is home away from home.
He was joined in the pursuit by Dave King, the Nebraska high school specialist for NOVA Fitness Equipment in Omaha. NOVA works with some 160 high schools throughout the state — from Omaha to the panhandle — King said, and the project with Centennial was especially enjoyable.
“We started with some little improvements in 2007,” King noted. “And, then in 2013 we added some cardio equipment and really got the community involved in the project. That was a neat aspect to the project as well, was that it was really a community fitness facility. It was beneficial for everyone.”
Then, in 2015 a remodel was completed that was spearheaded by Superintendent Tim DeWaard with input from the coaches of all sports at Centennial High School. The final result was a state-of-the-art facility for the students, coaches and community.
“It was really unique in that Mr. DeWaard wanted the whole staff to have input,” King said. “I was invited to those early 7:30 a.m meetings and worked personally with all of the coaches. They all had a passion for training athletes and making healthier students. It was a very unique situation to work with each coach, that doesn’t happen too often.”
Klanecky said the community results have been immeasurable.
“It’s kind of been a community room for everyone,” he said. “You have all kinds of people in here on a daily basis — college kids, high school kids, parents, even grandparents. I think it’s good for everyone to see what’s going on at the school. It’s a hub for everyone in a good way.”
The Fruits of the Labor
Now that the leaves have changed, the Broncos are still playing football. Something Centennial has done in five of Klanecky’s seven seasons in Utica. And, the coach is having fun coaching a group of tireless workers.
They’ve won in a bunch of different ways, but no one seems to care who gets the credit. Klanecky run’s out six sophomores, including 1,800-yard passer Wyatt Ehlers at quarterback, as starters. There are just nine seniors, led by running back/middle linebacker Ryan Schlueter, who has 1,010 yards and 62 tackles heading into the playoffs.
“None of our seniors are really ‘hyped’ up guys,” Klanecky said. “A very respectful bunch of kids, they get along with everyone in the school. Ryan is that way, he’s a lead by example kind of kid.”
He speaks of some of his other senior leaders much like they were family. Justin Heine starts on both lines and has 52 tackles on the season. He’s the only senior starter on the offensive line that features three sophomores.
Trevor Dey is a wide receiver/defensive back combination who has been playing with a broken pinky finger since early in the season. And, Andrew Cast is a defensive starter at free safety and what his coach calls a “special teams guru.”
“They are definitely a lead by example kind of group,” the coach said. “They have the respect of everybody on our team. You know, sometimes you’ll get a group that really wants to lead your younger kids and this group has done a tremendous job of leading our team.”
Klanecky hopes the tough regular season, and that work in the weight room, has his team prepared for a Class C-2 field that’s full of contenders. It doesn’t take much to know the quality of the field when the top and 16th seed were separated by two points in the regular season.
“I don’t think you can find any easy draw (in the bracket),” the coach said. “Yutan is so good. They played a heck of a schedule. We expect a four quarter battle come Friday night.”
No matter the result, King said one of the greatest rewards of working with schools is seeing success in the field of competition. It’s what made him enter the business, having been a part of the 1988 Class B state football championship team at Blair High School where he learned from his coaches Mike Lehl and Dennis Sellon.
Now, he sees those life lessons from a different perspective.
“It’s without a doubt the best thing we get out of working with our schools,” King said. “We get excited when there is a success story and we love to follow our teams at state events when they do well and we are proud to have been just a small part of it.
“And, even if there is no success, we know that we are making healthy kids, teachers and schools in the process of what we do. That’s what it’s all about.”
If it were up to Klanecky and the Broncos, though, they’d give King and the team at NOVA Fitness Equipment four more wins to be excited about. The fruits of all the labor that starts in the offseason and continues to the fall. What makes Centennial football play for Friday.