After a recent game, Soldotna High School football coach Sarge Truesdell gave a quick scouting report on the rest of the peninsula's football teams. When he got to Kenai, he mentioned that the scary thing about the Kardinals is their speed, and how fast the running backs can get around the corner.
Truesdell has every right to be nervous. Led by senior Cory Janson, the Kardinals have compiled 1,177 yards rushing through the first four games of the season. Janson has the lion's share of those yards -- 692 of them -- this year.
"He's got one thing you can't coach -- speed," said Kenai Central football coach Jim Beeson. "Sometimes we take it for granted that he's there."
Indeed, Janson has been Kenai's go-to guy, regardless of yards needed or field position. In Saturday's game against Anchorage Christian Schools, the Kardinals face a third-and-goal from the 13-yard line after a holding call nullified what would have been a touchdown pass. A quick option pitch to Janson and 13 yards later, the Kardinals were celebrating in the end zone.
"He has the experience and the knowledge," Beeson said. "Every time he touches the football, it could be a touchdown. He has that extra gear he slips into."
Janson has found the end zone 12 times this season, but he wasn't sure if there was a secret to his success.
"I don't know -- I just keep my head on a swivel," Janson said. "I have great blocking. That's a big part of it. Guys have got to be moved out of the way first."
As a freshman, Janson's involvement in the offense was as a receiver. In fact, he's in the Kardinals record book as the recipient of the longest pass play in school history, a 65-yard strike from Danny Bookey in 1999.
"(Running back) is where I wanted to be freshman year, but they wanted to put my speed at wide receiver and see how I did," Janson said.
Janson moved around the offense as a sophomore, lining up under center to run the option several times a game. Janson moved to running back full time as a junior, but he's been a starter in the Kenai defensive backfield for four years -- a feat that has even Beeson impressed.
"I love it. They send me (on a blitz) every once in a while," Janson said of his defensive duties at safety.
Janson's football experience has come somewhat serendipitously. His family -- parents Len and Lynn and older sister Kaci -- moved to Kenai from Kansas when Janson was entering his middle school years. Prior to the move, Janson was a year-round soccer player and had played just a little flag football before entering high school.
"Had I stayed in the Lower 48, I probably would never have played football," Janson said, adding that it had become his favorite sport.
With 3 1-2 varsity seasons in the books, Janson is a football convert and is hoping to continue to play next year in college.
Janson still plays soccer. He's been a defensive stalwart on the Kenai team that has qualified for the state tournament in each of the past three seasons. Janson has been a member of the Kenai American Legion Post 20 Twins baseball team, and he's added hockey to his athletic repertoire.
"Soccer was probably my first love. It's the sport I grew up playing," Janson said. "I've played Little League all my life -- I started with T-ball and kinda kept at it. It gives me something to do during my offseason."
Janson said his first season of hockey was a little rough, but he's enjoyed the sport more and more as he improves from year to year.
"My dad wanted me to try it. He told me it was soccer with a weapon," Janson said.
Janson carries the load in the classroom as well. He has a 3.87 grade point average and hasn't backed out of any hard classes in his senior year, opting instead for physics and calculus. Janson said he'd like to study electrical engineering in college next year.
Janson said his participation in athletics has enhanced his high school career.
"After starting football my freshman year, I met so many people, I wasn't worried or nervous when I started high school," Janson said. "It's a great way to get to know people, and it's fun, too."
The Kardinals are hoping that fun extends beyond the next four weeks of regular-season play and into the two-week small schools postseason. Janson said that while he has set some goals for himself, every player remains committed to the team goals.
"We want to push ourselves to be the best we can," Janson said. "We're working every week toward our goal."
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