Note: Kanab finished with a 4-7 overall record in 2010 and a 2-3 record in the 2A West. It lost, 47-14, to San Juan in the 2A quarterfinals.
KANAB — Teams that are commonly referred to as "Big Red" such as the University of Nebraska tend to enjoy a large amount of success and expect nothing less than tally marks on the left-hand side of the win-loss ledger as the season progresses.
That same frame of mind and a program richly soaked tradition is no different for the Kanab Cowboys. True, the 'Boys don't have the "Sea of Red" or the historic tunnel walk, but what they do have in common with the Cornhuskers are wins and titles.
Dating back to the 2001 season, Kanab has amassed a 79-37 record, including four straight appearances in the state championship game from 2005-08. The Cowboys captured state titles in 2005 and 2007.
That's why last year trekked on an unknown and downright unfamiliar path.
For the first time since that 2001, season the Cowboys finished with a losing record.
"I think they're just taking it for what it was. Last season's wins and losses are absolutely no reflection on what type of season we had," said Kanab coach Bucky Orton. "We dealt with a lot of adversity and made the most of what we had last year. That kind of the mindset we're going to have this year, too. The bottom line is that I was proud of last year's team in the way that they didn't give up — they battled."
If the Cowboys are to return to their winning habits, they'll do so without a lick of experience, with only three returning starters on both sides of the ball combined.
"Pretty much we're startin' all over. The quality of the kids that I have — I'm going to depend on that," said Orton. "We've got high-character kids and even though they're inexperienced, they know the tradition of Kanab and just relying on the fact that they're going to get better every week. We're just really going to focus on improvement week in and week out."
Waylon Stebbins and Ray Corry, both returning starters on the offensive line, highlight what is typically a run-oriented offense. The strong play on the line will help open gaps for junior slotback Kyle Livingston, who recovered from an injury-plagued season last year.
However, because of the lack of depth and experience on offense, Kanab is very focused on becoming a more even-keel team with the football.
"This year we're trying to be really balanced. In years past, we've been more of a run-heavy team," Orton said. "We're going to try and be a little bit more finesse this year. Hopefully that will allow us to play more physical on defense and give us a chance to win some games in the fourth quarter."
This is Kanab's third season at the 2A level after making the transition from 1A. During the past two seasons, it has a 10-12 overall record after consistently having double-digit win seasons for seemingly forever, spurring the conversation that it's truly a 1A school playing in a larger classification.
"We always want to say wherever we're at let's win, let's compete. If we're 1A, let's win; if we're 2A, let's win," Orton said. "We're excited with where we're at. It's definitely a lot harder on our program when you have 35-40 kids coming out, that's tough. We're not going to get too hung up on it, we're just going to try and win games."
Kanab Cowboys at a glance
Coach: Bucky Orton is entering his ninth season at his alma mater with a career record of 68-28.
(2 returning starters; spread offense)
Changes in philosophy are in full bloom on offense. The ability to adapt to the passing game will be key in the rebuilding process for the Cowboys. Junior quarterback Brandon Jenson will be instrumental in developing the new scheme. Jenson gained valuable experience early last season while last year's starter Kade Quarnberg dealt with injury. "He's a versatile athlete; he's got a strong arm. He's got some pretty good football savvy and I'm expecting some big things out of him," Orton said of Jenson. "He's got the respect out of our team, which I think is something that is really important for your quarterback to have. We're excited to see what he can do. He'll be a pretty good multi-threat quarterback."
(1 returning starter; base 4-3 scheme)
This is the major concern heading into the 2011 season. Last year, Kanab struggled mightily to make stops, giving up nearly 30 points per game. With only one returning starter, confusion is likely during crunch time. It's a lingering "we'll see" approach with the new personnel. "We're not going to change anything defensively; I think our schemes are great. It's just a matter of sometimes you have the horses and sometimes you don't," remarked Orton. "We're going to focus on not taking anything for granted and assuming the kids know their jobs. We're really going to start from scratch."
Coaches preseason 2A South straw poll: Fourth
Deseret News 2A South prediction: Sixth
Bottom line: Kanab is undoubtedly in a rebuilding process which happens even with the most successful of programs. That being said, the Cowboys do have a chance to improve on last season's win total after dropping several close games in the fourth quarter. If the Cowboys can take advantage of three straight home games to open the year, while not making silly mistakes late in games, Kanab should make the playoffs again — this time with a much more respectable record.
Aug. 19 — NORTH SEVIER, 7 p.m.
Aug. 26 — PAROWAN, 7 p.m.
Sept. 2 — GRAND, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 — at San Juan, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16 — at Enterprise, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 — SOUTH SEVIER, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 — at Parowan, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 — RICHFIELD, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 — at Beaver, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 — Bye