Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Gigantor's real name is Lauren

But you might just want to call the big Bison 'sir'

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The University of Manitoba football team calls him Gigantor and if you happen to be on the other side of the line of scrimmage, he'll be happy to show you why.

In three seasons defensive end Lauren Kroeker, a 6-foot-4, 250-pound giant of a man from Stonewall, has gone from a walk-on out of nine-man football to the Bisons' starting defensive end. He's the team's second-leading tackler with 23.5 bring-downs in just five games.

Kroeker and the Bisons (2-3) will welcome the Alberta Golden Bears (0-5) today at 1 p.m. at University Stadium (101.5 UMFM) in their second-last home game of the Canada West season.

"We've got a big room, there's 85 guys, and I'm pretty sure some of them don't even know his real name. He's just Gigantor to everyone," head coach Brian Dobie said. "He was just this giant linebacker. When we needed an upgrade at defensive end, Stan Pierre (defensive co-ordinator) said, 'How about Gigantor?'"

In his first game at defensive end last season, against Alberta, Kroeker registered 11 tackles, which Dobie called "a crazy number" for a first game at a new position.

Kroeker, whose nickname comes from the massive, world-saving robot Gigantor in a television cartoon, believes the Bisons can call him whatever they want as long as it includes "starter."

"It's just really cool to get the opportunity, with the great, winning history of this program, to be part of the last season in the old stadium and going into the new stadium," said Kroeker.

"I have to give glory to God for what he's blessed me with in natural athletic ability, but I know a lot of hard work has to go along with that too. Right now, I'm just focused on beating Alberta and we really want to make the playoffs this year."

Dobie said that positive attitude, his desire to be a great team player and his drive to work hard has elevated Kroeker from off the radar to a force to be reckoned with.

"He's a local guy that got our attention through the provincial teams program, he's grown into a great starter for us and we think he's got a real shot at being a Canada West all-star," Dobie said.

"He understands his role, he's extremely coachable and he plays his position very well. He's very respected in the room. He has so much fun out there, but yet is very professional about how he goes about it. That gets people's attention.

"He's already very good, but how good can he be? Well, there's a ceiling that he hasn't reached yet that he can climb to with his experience and continued work ethic."

You might think growing up as a boy with the first name Lauren would have fostered the desire to knock people down, but not so for Kroeker.

"I'm not really sure if my parents were thinking straight when they picked that name. I'm not named after anyone, they just liked it," Kroeker said with a laugh. "It is an issue every once in a while but not so much growing up, because I was usually bigger than everybody else."

Kroeker joked that he embraces breaking down barriers and has even managed to raise a few eyebrows in his career choice. He is one of the few male students in the U of M's faculty of nursing.

Kroeker is training to bring a spectacular 250-pound bedside manner to his future patients.

"I'm just a trend-setter. I might get hooped into a lot of lifts and transfers (of patients) once I get out of school," Kroeker said laughing. "I just wanted to do something that was interpersonal, not behind a desk all day. I always enjoyed sciences and this seems like a pretty good combination where I can also make a meaningful contribution."

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 15, 2011 C14

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