With a new league and a new season approaching, Creighton’s high school football squad is back on the gridiron in preparation.
The Creighton Kodiaks are getting into game shape for a fall season with tough competition and a new crew of big name talents. Camp for the Kodiaks started on August 23 and almost 40 players have shown up to start the year - the most players the Kodiaks have ever had to start a season. A massive number of players - 19 in total, about half the team - are Grade 11 students and will be counted on at various times this year.
“Kids are wanting to come out and play - that’s good,” said Kodiaks head coach Ryan Karakochuk.
“We’ve got a lot of interesting decisions to make here the next few days.”
The Kodiaks will hold their first game of the season on the road this week, heading to Shellbrook for an exhibition game against the W.P. Sandin School Aardvarks Sept. 7. From there, the Kodiaks will play every Thursday until at least mid-October, starting their season off officially with a home opener against the Rosthern Longhorns at Creighton’s Oval of Dreams Sept. 14.
What the team will look like come Sept. 14 is still up for discussion - for the first time, Karakochuk said there are battles for key starting jobs throughout the lineup, including at quarterback, where both Josh Trumbley and Kaleb Lycan are competing for reps.
“I’m really excited about that. We have position battles to declare here in the next few days,” Karakochuk said.
“It’s going to be a little nerve-wracking at first,” said Lycan. A multi-tool player Karakochuk calls a “Swiss Army knife player”, Lycan is likely to play multiple different positions this season.
Several key players from last year’s title-winning team have graduated - quarterback Marcus Kennedy, running back Carson Straile, kicker Grace Dubinak, defensive specialist Taylan Woods and lineman and occasional running back Jaxon Smith. In their place comes a new crop, led in part by running back Payton Pelletier, who Karakochuk sees as a possible impact player despite only being a Grade 10 student.
“We have a whole new offence this year, so it’ll be really hard to tell if we can succeed there more than we did last year with Marcus at quarterback and Carson and his dynamic running. I’m really excited for Payton - I think he’s going to absolutely be one of the best prospects we’ve ever had come through our program and I’m eager to see how he takes the reins,” said the coach.
Rogan Hlady, who doubles both as a football player and a goalie in soccer, will be the team’s kicker this season. All of the Kodiaks’ starting defensive players from last year’s title win are back for more.
“I expect that to be a strength, although one thing that’s going to change is we’re going to be playing some really good competition,” Karakochuk said.
“I’m feeling pretty confident in our defense, we're looking good. We have a lot of older guys who've been doing this before,” said Ethan Lavis, one of the returning defensive players, a safety and defensive back.
The game this week and next week’s home opener will signal the start of a new era of Creighton Kodiak football, where the team will begin their campaign, for the first time, against exclusively southern opposition.
Since the Kodiaks’ team was established, they have almost exclusively played northern-based opponents, whose programs have only been established within the past decade. Creighton became the dominant force in northern Saskatchewan football in that league, winning five league championships, including each of the last three dating back before the pandemic.
This season, the Kodiaks will move into unknown territory, playing only against more established programs in central Saskatchewan. Until now, the Kodiaks had only played those teams in provincial conference games, losing in all of their previous attempts.
The change in the level of competition will be big. Last season, the Kodiaks won games by 40, 50, even 60 points - that isn’t likely going to happen this year.
“The one thing that's going to change this year is we're playing really good competition and they pass a lot. As great as our six defenders are coming back, they're going to have to learn. They're not going to get any freebie games. Every team we play is going to be able to pass the ball. Every team we play is going to have a very good running back and quarterback. Even though we're excited about the defense coming back, it's going to be challenging in the sense that they need to pick up a lot more than they may have in the past playing against northern teams.”
The players are excited about the change.
“I’m pretty hyped for it. It’s going to be pretty cool, just going to new schools and new towns and all that. So far, we’ve played them in provincials before and it’s been an eye-opener. We’re pretty excited,” said Lycan.
“Down south, it’s like a different level of play. We just got to keep up that work ethic and keep trying,” Lavis said.
After their home opener, the Kodiaks will head to Hague Sept. 21 to play the Hague High Panthers, then will hit the road again for a Sept. 28 game against the Marauders in Birch Hills, who beat the Kodiaks in a snowy conference game in 2019.
Creighton’s other two home games will be against familiar foes. The Oct. 5 game will be against the juggernaut Wakaw Warriors, a team they have faced twice before in conference games and have lost to both times. Wakaw won the Saskatchewan provincial title in 2021 and knocked the Kodiaks out of the provincial playoffs last season.
The Kodiaks’ fifth and final regular season game will be at home against Shellbrook, who the Kodiaks faced in the provincial playoffs in 2021. That game, played on the Kodiaks’ home field, was as close as the team has ever gotten to beating a southern opponent, losing a 30-26 heartbreaker.
In the past, the Kodiaks’ main goal was not just to win the northern championship, but to advance in provincial playoffs. The goal this year is more modest - to show they belong in a new league.
“We just want to get our first game under our belt and go from there. We want to compete in the south - that’s the message we want to send,” Lavis said.
“We want to prove to the division that we came here for a reason and to not overlook us,” Lycan said.