As a junior in 2010, Sonora Wildcat Karson Canaday had to earn his stripes as a varsity football cornerback.
SONORA WILDCAT senior cornerback Karson Canaday takes part in a drill on Wednesday afternoon in Sonora. AMY ALONZO-ROZAK/UNION DEMOCRAT
Week after week Canaday would line up across from the opposing team’s top receiver and, more often than not, the receiver would be bigger and taller than his own 5-7, 140-pound frame.
“When he’s covering one of those big, tall guys, I’m confident he can do the job,” said Wildcat offensive coordinator/defensive backs coach Kirk Clifton. “He’s got really good timing combined with quick hands which makes him a great cover guy.”
Against the Sierra Timberwolves last season, Canaday faced a unique situation.
With just over one minute remaining in the first half, the Wildcats trailed Sierra 14-7. Sierra had the ball on the Wildcat 15-yard line and faced 2nd-and-11. Both teams were battling to stay in the Valley Oak League race.
Sierra called a fade pattern into the back of the endzone, targeting their 6-3, 180-pound wideout.
Canaday was stride-for-stride with the Sierra receiver and wrestled the ball out of his hands — incomplete.
Next play, third down, Sierra calls the exact play — and gets the exact same result.
“I didn’t think they would keep throwing it at me,” said Canaday. “But they kept coming at me. He was one of the leading receivers in the league and was at least three or four inches taller than me.”
“We teach him, when he has a big, tall wideout like that, to wait until the very last second and make a play on his arms,” said Clifton. “We’re not gonna be able to jump up and go higher than a 6-3, 6-4 guy. But we can jump up and take away an arm and club with the other. I don’t want him to go up and pick the ball, I want him to knock it down.”
On fourth down, the Timberwolves thought the third time would be the charm and went back to the well instead of attempting a field goal.
No chance. Canaday, again with blanket coverage, denied Sierra access to the endzone.
“I took it personally as soon as he threw that last one,” said Canaday. “The two before got me ticked off — then they threw the third one into the endzone just before half. Once the ball hit the ground, I was pumped and started yelling. But after that, nobody really challenged me the way they did.”
“Very seldom do you repeat a play even if you have success with it, you very seldom go right back to it,” said Wildcat head coach Bryan Craig. “They must’ve thought they saw a weakness out there and I think Karson showed them otherwise.”
Now a senior, Canaday is considered a shut-down corner by his coaches in an All-Star defensive backfield that includes hard-hitting Austin Davis at safety and Scotty Selesia at the other corner.
“I think he’s even better than he was last year,” said Craig. “Last year I thought he was a good corner and this year he might be one of the best cornerbacks in our league. I’d put him up against just about anybody.”
“Karson is our go-to guy out there on the corner,” said Clifton. “So if we start having problems stopping a wideout, we’ll just lock him up on one of them and hopefully he can take him out of the game. Karson can cover and he can tackle. I will take a corner that can cover and tackle as well as him any day.”
Canaday and the rest of the Wildcat defense will have their hands full on Friday night when they travel to play the Modesto Panthers (0-2) at 7 p.m. at Johansen High School.
The Panthers proved to be electric on offense last year against the Wildcats, scoring on long-yardage plays of 94, 84, 64 and 42 yards. Modesto beat Sonora 37-34 on a final-play, 36-yard field goal.
“They’re a lot like last year, big up front,” said Craig. “I don’t know that they have the speed they had last year, but they’re a lot faster than us. They’ve got a good, fast running back. They’ve got two really good receivers — their tight end is very active in catching the ball and their wide receiver is fast and they find ways to get him the ball. They’re very proficient at what they do.”
Modesto on defense had no answer for the Wildcats a year ago. Sonora racked up 559 yards of total offense, including 384 on the ground.
Wildcat fullback Nolan Dambacher last year plowed his way to a career-high against the Panthers gaining 118 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries.
Sonora is coming off a big opening-season shutout victory over Johansen in which it dominated both sides of the ball.
To duplicate that effort, the Sonora brass want their Wildcats focused.
“We had an outstanding practice last night,” said Craig on Wednesday. “I just think we need to be disciplined on both sides of the ball. Where we struggled with Johansen a little bit in the first half, was that we lined up wrong a couple of times and we weren’t focused on our assignments. I think if we just stay focused and be physical we’ll be fine.”