2018 Gridiron: Central Lee Hawks
Colors: Black and yellow
Total Returning Lettermen: 10
2017 Overall Record: 5-4
Head Coach: Nick Ehret
Years at School: 2
Record at School: 5-4
Overall Record: 9-9
HOPP-ILY EVER AFTER: HAWKS DOUBLE DOWN ON POWERFUL GROUND GAME IN QUEST FOR POSTSEASON RETURN
BROKEN WINGS: After winning three of their first four and five of their first seven under new coach Nick Ehret, the Central Lee Hawks stumbled down the stretch with losses to Chariton and Centerville; finishing 5-4 overall and falling just shy of extending the program’s unprecedented run of postseason invites to three straight. In light of that development, Central Lee finds itself faced with a critical fork in the road for its football fortunes this Fall. Do the Hawks restore their hard-won reputation as an emergent Gridiron Power in the Hawkeye State’s small school landscape? Or do they backslide into the non-descript past and surrender all that momentum and simmering potential that welled from the first ever Playoff Appearance in School History back in 2016? With some already pronounced numbers questions arising at the lower levels of the Central Lee program, Hawk Football could really use the shot in the arm that a crazy season ride and a sports-loving community gone bonkers could provide in pushing some of those “on-the-fence-about-football” youngsters into Black and Gold wearers in the looming future. So yes, there is quite a bit more than just meets the eye that rides on this campaign.
THE DONNELLSON DOH-SI-DOH: There are some further, roster-specific complications to consider here for this Central Lee Football team in 2018 as well. The Hawks big goodbye in June to a really talented Senior Class that occupied eight starting slots on offense and another half-dozen on D, including that unit’s unquestioned rainmaker in Linebacker Jared Brisby. How important was Brisby to last year’s Defense? His 103 tackles were more than three times as many as his next closest teammate and Jared was personally responsible for 17 of this team’s total 39 tackles for loss and seven of the squads ten total quarterback sacks. There’s a lot of lost production to replace on both sides of the football and just ten lettermen back with which to do exactly that. Put simply, the Hawks are going to need newcomers to step in immediately and effectively to reach their goals.
STUTESAND LADDERS: Having enumerated the many challenges in play here: let’s talk remedies. While there are question marks aplenty, the Hawks are not without some very pronounced strengths with which to tilt the scales in their favor. Most evidently: this is a football team that should have no trouble moving the football on the ground. Two outstanding Offensive Linemen return from a group that paved the way for 225 yards per game of rushing a year ago and that makes Seniors Gunther Johnson (6’ 275lbs) and Chase Stutes (6’1” 260lbs) very consequential assets. Johnson is a proven commodity at Right Guard with Sequoias for legs; the kind of base that allows one to blast opponents off the line with regularity and ease. He’s got enormous potential as a finisher, given that lower body. Gunther is one more positive evolution from becoming a big time postseason awards candidate if he continues on this aggressive trajectory. Stutes came on strong deeper into the Fall and is one of those blue collar worker types who mixes nice size with a willingness to get afterit. The key here is grafting new talent to this very impressive two man nucleus. If Juniors Zach Waldorf (6’ 290lbs) and David Vance (6’ 270lbs) pan out as expected, the Hawks could boast one of the most sizeable front walls in the Class. Sophomore Connor Moore (6’ 175lbs) looks a little out of place here with the behemoths around him, but his speed and toughness would certainly give the Hawks a necessary counterpunch getting to the next level of the Defense. Don’t sleep here on good looking Tight End Candidate Martin Vineyard, a 6’ 190 pound Senior who could add even more physicality to the mix. Everything I’ve heard out of the Hawk Camp this Summer suggests that expectations are really high for this group of blockers as a collective. Assuming good health and a quickly developed chemistry, Central Lee could boast one of the best blocking collectives in the entire Tri-States
CENTER STAGE: After playing a vital role in Central Lee’s balanced, by-committee run game a year ago, Tyler Hopp profiles as a true feature back for the Hawks in 2018 and an awfully darned good one at that. Hopp was the team’s second leading rusher as Junior, rolling up 591 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns a year ago. The caveat here is that he only received 84 carries on the year. That works out to a 7.1 yards per carry average, which certainly underscores the advance hype. He’s a goodly sized, durable kid at 6’2” and 180 pounds with a Linebackers toughness and mentality. More than that, though, Tyler plays with great kinetic energy. He’s constantly at hustle and gains ground in big giant patches with that long stride quickness of his. And I like the fact that he’s always looking for that way to get upfield, gain that extra yard. He rates for us as one of the Top Five Two-Way Players in Tri-State Football coming into this season and figures to put up considerable rushing totals given his increased usage rate.
HOPPY BUT WITH SUBLTE NOTES OF REFINEMENT: The key for the Central Lee Offense going into August is finding effective ways to keep opponents from selling all out on Tyler Hopp and packing the Defensive Box with enough bodies gum up the works for the Hawks Offensive Line. Sophomore Chance Hocker will factor in this mix somewhere. He did have four varsity carries a year ago and is multi-dimensional enough to help at Running Back. Safety Adam Boeck might land there as well. Dalton Westercamp and TJ Stutes are candidates to step in and help at Wide Receiver. Junior Evan Pohren (6’ 165lbs) is the name I’ve heard most commonly associated with the Quarterback position but I am told that Nick Ehret will take his time to sort out all the permutations of the offense. And to some degree, mystery is a good thing for Central Lee going into the season on Offense. The more the Hawks can use a Defenses aggressiveness against Tyler Hopp against it early on, the shorter the growth curve becomes for some of these new starters.
MIDNITE VULTURES: Defensively, the Hawks return five starters from a unit that surrendered 23 points and almost 340 total yards of offense per game last Fall; even as Jared Brisby was providing All State level production at Linebacker. There’s definitely some room here for belt tightening. Coach Ehret is hopeful that is precipitated by two factors: anticipated growth on the Defensive Line and the emergence of a true leader and playmaker to serve as model for the younger kids in play here.
To the former point, Central Lee does have both Gunther Johnson (21 tackles) and Chase Stutes (17 stops) again serving as pillars on the Defensive Line. That is a considerable amount of run stuffing heft to with which to bomb away at an opposing Defensive Line. And while there isn’t a great deal of overall depth on this roster, the expected emergences of Zach Waldorf, Daniel Vance and Martin Vineyard up front does poses some viable rotational options to ensure fresh legs. This should allow the Linebackers to enjoy freer range to scrape to the football.
As far as enforcers go, Tyler Hopp looms largest. Harken back to his Freshman Campaign, when Tyler produced a team leading 67 stops, and you certainly see has the requisite predator DNA. I’d suggest he’s probably going to enjoy a freer hand in being able to chase down contact and is poised to rebound in the stat department dramatically over the 28 total stops he garnered a year ago. He’s fast, rangy, and painfully effective when he gets to the ball; traits that make him an ideal Centerpiece. The Hawks will be young at Linebacker around him, but awfully quick with Charlie Hocker and the fast rising
Evan Pohren (24.5 tackles in 2017) as well as Connor Moore in the mix for reps.
The Defensive Backfield will be massive overhauled, with only spot starter Adam Boeck back at Safety. Dalton Westercamp (5’10. 160lbs) and TJ Stutes (5’10” 160lbs) are expected to make significant plays for starting jobs in the Secondary and will look to winnow the 160 passing yards a game the Hawks surrendered a year ago.
THE DUERR DIAGNOSIS: With so many positional variables in play and so many underclassmen being asked to assume leadership mantles, Central Lee is one of the toughest preseason prognostications we will reckon with this Fall. I do know the IHSAA did the Hawks no favors in killing off the Keokuk rivalry series and handing Central Lee dates with Mediapolis and powerhouse Wiliamsville within the District. It is in particular, a very hard start for Nick Ehret’s team with an improved Fort Madison on opening night and Mepo and Mount Pleasant back to back in Weeks Two and Three. There’s the potential for a lot of exposure there for rookie starters getting their varsity football baptism. Still, I look at it this way for Central Lee: the 2018 campaign is all about controlling the controllable. If the Hawks steer games into their strengths (possession football, withering Line Pressure, limited Defensive Exposure through ball control) they are going to position themselves at least to be in a lot of games. If they lose that identity or let other teams impose their will on them, the Hawks aren’t built to win against type our outside of comfort level. So this is going to be as much about discipline, buy-in, and sustained physicality for four quarters as it as about x’s and o’s and Jimmies and Joes. From the small sample size we’ve seen, Nick Ehret is a pretty astute coach who already knows this implicitly and he will scheme in the manner that best accentuates the positives he has. There’s hay to be made from mid-September on here if the Hawks will simply stick to the game plan. I think that opening date with the Bloodhounds will tell us a lot, especially in light of last year’s outcome. A Central Lee team with volition and backbone will come out and try to send a message of vengeance that night. A tentative, too-young-for-the-stage incarnation of same will be in trouble early. Anxious to see what identity the Hawks embrace from snap one than because it very likely sets the tone for an entire season..and perhaps the immediate future given the stakes.