The more things change, the more they stay the same. A philosopher said that once, probably not in reference to the St. Ansgar football team. But the sentiment fits all the same.
Collin Kramer, the star athlete who dominated the field across the St. Ansgar athletic program, is gone. But one thing will remain the same this season as it has for the past 20 seasons under head coach Drew Clevenger. The Saints are going to run the ball.
“We have a style of football here that maybe is old school by some standards,” Clevenger said. “People who do follow football in North Iowa know that that is the style of football we’ve played for my 20 years that I’ve been here. We feel that it fits our personality, and it fits our kids' personality.”
That style of play has led to a lot of success for the program. Last season was the first year since 2002 that the Saints failed to make the postseason, despite their 6-3 record. Clevenger mostly attributes this to Iowa's new high school football playoff system.
After last week’s season-opening 66-14 victory over West Fork, the Saints are currently ranked No. 3 in the state in Class A football.
“I don’t think it’s because we weren’t worthy,” Clevenger said. “But this new playoff system, we lost to a Class 1A district champion that was a really good team. We lost to the state champion in a close game, and that was a non-district game. We lost our first district game in five years.
"In my opinion, we were a top 16 playoff type team. But with the new system, it didn’t work out that way.”
With that disappointment comes a fresh start for the Saints. A solid senior class will leads St. Ansgar this season, a class that includes new starting quarterback Cade Duckert and running back Jack Sievert.
Duckert spent last year as the backup to Kramer, and also played tight end and special teams. He knows that expectations are for him to be a more vocal leader this season under center. He doesn't think that will be a problem.
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“I have big shoes to fill,” Duckert said. “Collin last year was a big part of our team, and he was a great leader. I’m just trying to fill in those shoes and be as much like him as possible. I need to get the guys going, get them ready for games.”
Sievert, who led the Saints with 865 yards rushing last season, will also see his role change this year. Instead of just being one of several options in the backfield, Sievert is going to be expected to be the main guy at the running back position. His words will carry weight.
“It’s my job to be the running back that everyone looks to, instead of the guy they look to when the other guys aren’t getting it done. It’s definitely different,” Sievert said. “Before, there was always the other guys being vocal and all I had to do was just lead by doing my job and stuff.
"Everyone I used to wait for to yell at people is gone.”
Both players are aware that their coach expects them, along with the rest of the senior class, to step up and be vocal leaders this season.
“I’ve been real pleased with this group in terms of their attitude and their effort in the offseason,” Clevenger said. “If our team is going to do anything special this year, we’re certainly going to face a lot of adversity, and we have a strong senior class to get through those tough times in games and practice.”
With a strong senior class and a chip on their shoulder after missing the postseason for the first time in a generation, Clevenger has high expectations for the 2019 Saints.
“Our expectations, we try to keep the same every year,” Clevenger said “We expect to compete for a district title, and we expect to compete in the postseason. We’ll be a tough team to beat once we get to the postseason.
"That doesn’t just happen, you have to work at that year round, in terms of building your body up in the weight room. We’ll find out if we’ve done enough.”