Foote Field – Ben Graunke finished his high school football career as the most valuable player in the Carr conference.
The talented Grade 12 tailback and safety for the Bellerose Bulldogs was presented with the prestigious Haliburton Trophy after the Carr final Saturday night.
“It’s an honour to win this award,” Graunke told the Gazette. “It’s a pretty big deal for me.”
The nine Carr teams in the metro Edmonton league nominated a Haliburton candidate but were not allowed to vote for their own player.
Also in the running for the MVP award were Grade 11 quarterbacks Keith Zyla of the St. Albert High Skyhawks and Cory Knott of the Paul Kane Blues.
“My goal going into the season was winning the Carr championship and winning an MVP award. We didn’t win the Carr championship but I’m really glad to have this award,” Graunke said. “It’s really what motivated me in the offseason. I worked pretty hard with my weightlifting partner, James Comeau. We worked out every day with no days off, so this award means quite a bit for me.”
Graunke, 17, joins former St. Albert winners Danny Prockiw of the Storm in 1992, Cory Jones of the Skyhawks in 1999 and 2000 and pool B recipients Kyle Connolly of the Bulldogs in 2005 and Chris Dobko of the Skyhawks in 2007.
“I’m in some pretty good company, and not only St. Albert guys. There are some good players who have won it over the years,” said the bantam graduate of the St. Albert Fury, the 2009 provincial Tier 2 finalists in his Grade 9 season.
Graunke’s final stats after eight league games and one playoff contest were 172 carries for 1,362 yards and 13 touchdowns, plus 10 receptions for 84 yards.
He was also second on Bulldogs in tackles with 40 solo and picked off one pass.
According to the metro stats dated Oct. 31, he was the conference leader in carries and was second in rushing yards behind Bryson Dobush’s 1,448 with the Falcons as their Halliburton nominee.
“Ben had an outstanding season,” said Chad Hill, head coach of the 6-3 Bulldogs, ranked 10th provincially in Tier I. “This award is the culmination of the last three seasons of hard work and dedication. Ben worked out with incredible intensity in the offseason so that he could produce the type of numbers that he did on both sides of the ball.”
“During spring camp, we had Ben listed as the third string running back and starting safety. He told me then that I would change my mind and he would prove that he could be a starting running back and not take any plays off from the defence.”
“I’m extremely proud of Ben and feel that he is very deserving of this honour.”
Graunke was tipped off about winning the award the day after the Bulldogs lost the Carr semifinal 28-8 to the Skyhawks. His last high school touchdown was a nine-yard effort against the Skyhawks in the playoff to knot the score at 7-7 with 7:26 left in the second quarter.
Graunke celebrated his accomplishment at a dinner Saturday with offensive linemen Jack Hanna, Jacob Neuls, Billy Clapp, Aiden Shiels and Curt Supruniuk, as well as offensive line coach Bob Brayman and quarterback coach Larry Olexiuk.
“I owe a lot of my success this year to my O-line. We’ve also got great coaches too,” Graunke said.
The Bulldogs contingent sat in the stands to watch the Skyhawks lose the Carr final 51-14 to the Falcons before Graunke was accompanied by Hill to field level to accept the MVP award during the post-game ceremonies.
“I would rather be in this game playing for a championship with my teammates than standing out here in the rain,” Graunke said while showing off the Haliburton Trophy to his offensive linemen. “But this still an OK consolation prize.”