2018 Gridiron: Keokuk Chiefs
Colors: Black, white and purple
Total Returning Lettermen: 8
2017 Overall Record: 0-9
Head Coach: Quentin Hamner
Years at School: 1
Overall Record: 142-26
AVENUE Q: TRANSFORMATIVE COACHING HIRE SIGNALS STEP ONE IN COMPLETE OVERHAUL OF CHIEF FOOTBALL
HAMNER TIME: If radical makeover is your thing, Quentin Hamner is to High School Football Programs what Drew and Jonathon Scott are to middle class home renovation. That’s right Keokuk Faithful, your beloved Chiefs are lucky enough to have been picked to be “Pigskin Property Brother-ed” for lack of a better term or analogy. Over fourteen years spent as both a Head Coach and Assistant, Hamner has fashioned a working record of 142-26 with four state titles, another state runner-up trophy, six Final Four Appearances, and eight total Sweet Sixteen berths to his resume. So how does a program with an entirely pedestrian 33-63 mark over the last ten years luck into making a hire like this? A diligent Athletic Director who won’t take no for an answer and the lure of home, I suppose. From Day One on the job, Keokuk AD Zach Summers made no secret of his desire to MKGA (Make Keokuk Football Great Again) When he got wind of Hamner’s rumored interest of returning home to his roots through fellow Clark County native and now current Keokuk High Staffer Josh Roberts, Summers went into full recruitment mode. The wooing worked. Keokuk made the windfall hiring announcement in early April. And Quentin Hamner inherited the biggest football flip he’s taken on to date in grafting a success-seeking mentality to a team coming off a winless 0-9 campaign.
TOO MUCH TUTELAGE IS NEVER ENOUGH: Having apprenticed under the legendary Fred Bouchard, Quentin Hamner learned early in this business that a head coach is only as good as his staff. Considering the size of the reclamation project at hand, the new Chief Skipper tried to gather as much “Assistant Ammunition” as he could muster. While Q’s coaching reputation was hewn largely of his work as a Defense Whisperer, he convinced Jamie Hoskins to remain on staff and continue in his role as the Chiefs D-Coordinator to help ease the transition/double the amount of quality coaching assets being thrown at a needed overhaul on that side of the ball. Josh Roberts, a pretty darned good Clark County Indian Running Back in his day, will run Q’s Offense. Former Culver Stockton Star Quarterback/Hamner College Teammate Clint Grothaus came aboard as a volunteer assistant. As did ex-Keokuk Head Coach and noted line guru Doug Dodds. When working with a team that skews as young as this year’s Chiefs squad (just eight returning lettermen back) it pays to have as many quality eyes on every position group as possible. If staffing is the Gem City’s first real litmus test on the Hamner Era, the new Keokuk Boss did very well for himself here putting together this group of gentlemen; which also includes Adam Hardin, Glenn Fernetti, and Kyler Barnes.
POURING THE FOUNDATION: As sterling as Hamner’s coaching resume has been to this point; his career win percentage is almost certain to take a hit in Year One in the Gate City. No one knows this better than Quentin himself; a man who has time and again seen in his career that there are no shortcuts to greatness in this game. Year One of the Q Regime will be about identifying and amplifying potential pockets of future roster strength, building an overall identity from that evaluation, and coaching away construct flaws and bad habits through fundamentals to raise the overall quality of the product. With five starters returning on Offense and just three holdovers on Defense, there will be a lot of young and new in play. Hamner expects to play a lot of Sophomores early, on both sides of the ball; which means there will be growing pains. To his mind, it’s a matter of choosing long term sustainable success over faux quick fixes. So patience, from all parties, is going to be an essential element in this process.
SKIN IN THE GAME: Philosophically, Keokuk plans to run a spread concept offense. In Year One, the plan with that group is to identify what these kids do well together in camp, live in that basic comfort zone early, and then expand the parameters when the kids look like they are primed to take a next step forward. Sophomore Quarterback Corey Skinner is going to be a critical lynchpin in that approach. He already has a year of varsity experience under his belt and flashed the ability to be multidimensional performer. The 5’10” 170 pounder did throw for 675 yards and five touchdowns a year ago and scrambled for another 268 yards and four touchdowns as well. And despite some of the chaos in the backfield around him, Corey did a commendable job limiting mistakes. The Coaching Staff views him as a potential difference maker; with the hope that Skinner can continue to accelerate his growth curve from the jump this season and in so doing, lift the play of everyone around him. Moreover, new OC Josh Roberts is providing him with a raw, but athletically promising assembly of pass catchers. Basketball standout Anthony Potratz (6’2” 170lbs) is the lone holdover starter at Wide Receiver and while he saw six catches last Fall as a Froshthree of them resulted in touchdowns. Defensive Standout Dylan Jeffers is slated to run at Receiver on Offense in his Junior Year. As is the agile Tyjai Mueller. And the Chiefs also have Callum Tackes in the mix to play with as well. If Corey Skinner is afforded time to find these guys in the pattern, Keokuk will have the ability to keep a Secondary very much on its toes from snap one with all these weapons buzzing about.
PURPLE LANES, PURPLE LANES: Last year, the Chiefs averaged just 14 points per game. More tellingly, Keokuk could muster no better than 95 ground yards a contest. That’s a pretty glaring offensive fail. Point blank, new OC Josh Roberts has to invigorate that aspect of the Spread Offense or it might as well be open season on his young Quarterback. On the plus side, Keokuk does seem to have a capable option as their one-back in the spread in returning Junior Braylon Martinez. He didn’t have much of a body of work in 2017 (just 38 carries, 186 yards and a single touchdown) but he is a quick and darting weapon with the ability to catch the football out of the backfield. The Chiefs have to do a better job creating the kid running lanes. Again, this is why I am as encouraged Doug Dodds participation here as anything. The man has a State Championship Ring certified resume for building Lines. He will return holdover starter RJ Bryant (5’9” 240lbs) as well as Jackson Jones, a 6’2” 260 pound Senior who played sparingly as an underclassmen but whose size and potential this off-season has greatly encouraged the coaching staff. Luke Davis, Austin Smith and Tristyn O’Connor will be names to watch in this mix as well. Do not sleep here on Kommonie Moody either; playing for the first time since Middle School but possessed of the kind of size and strength that could solve a ton of ills for this O-Line in a hurry if he gets his comeback on track quickly.
THE AREA OF EXPERTISE: Quentin Hamner works in Defensive Scheme the way other artists do paints and acrylics. That talent, however, may be a bit more muted in Act One of the Keokuk Rehab than one might expect. With just three starters back and another host of really young job candidates in play, I suspect Q and DC Jamie Hoskins to scale their concepts down to 101 entry level stuff to open the year. Evolution one will be to make this thing more Linebacker Driven; standard issue stuff from the Defensive Gospel according to Phil Lite. Interestingly, the Chiefs have already moved Standout Junior Backer Dylan Jeffers to Right Defensive End. I suspect this rises more from Jeffers tremendous ability to collapse a pocket (5 sacks last year as a Sophomore) than it does on any specific personal failing. This also allows for Anthony Potratz to become a kind of hybrid Outside Linebacker on the left side; giving Hoskins a pair of anchors who can turn the action back into the middle of the field. When your defense surrenders nearly 40 points per game on average, shutting down the edges seems a pretty wise default correction. It also puts the onus here on Tristyn O’Connor and Callum Tackes to take ownership of their newly elevated Linebacker roles within the 3-4 here. There will be a lot of action funneled their way this Fall. Tackles opportunities should be plentiful and that is every ILB’s dream scenario.
The Keokuk Secondary could be surprisingly interesting. Tyjai Mueller is the lone holdover starter here and did snare an Interception as a Sophomore. Corey Skinner is slated to man the Free Safety Spot while Braylon Martinez gives Keokuk the potential for bookend Corners with Mueller. The Defensive Line scenario, however, looms here as the potential Achilles Heel for Keokuk. Jeffers position change is an instant upgrade, but the Chiefs have to do a better job posing resistance in the trenches. You could have the best Linebackers on the planet at your disposal, but if they aren’t getting cover up front, your Defense is doomed to fail. Luke Davis, Austin Smith, and Kommonie Moody will get first crack at remedying that issue.
THE DUERR DIAGNOSIS: Let’s keep the Year One expectation levels reasonable, my friends. Even if Keokuk had somehow hired Nick Saban this Spring; this program still wasn’t circumventing the months of unavoidable dues paying ahead it takes to change a culture and set a football program on a trajectory out of the Tri-State Gridiron cellar. Put plainly, Quentin Hamner and his staff face in year one the perfect storm flag raising concerns: Sophomore-dominated roster playing Varsity competition. Dearth of both size and experience in the trenches. Lack of experience nearly everywhere on a defense that struggled mightily in 2017. An offensive backfield devoid a single upperclassmen. Any one of these factors alone could be viewed as a disqualifier. Keokuk will try to overcome the whole kit and caboodle here. And as good as its coaching staff may be, none of those guys are actually taking the snaps themselves this season. So again, repeat after me: this is conscious rebuild. This is a process and it may take 12-18 months before there is viable traction to advance the football agenda. So this Fall, we grade on a curve. I will tell you there is talent here; young as it may be. The schedule makers did Quentin Hamner a solid here in handing the Chiefs Davis County in Week One; a game in which even at this stage of the process, Keokuk should be competitive. And that’s a chance to build confidence and accentuate the positive. As with most “flips,” people tend to struggle to look past the present condition of a situation and see the value of what a property could be with the addition of some sweat equity. There are athletes here. There is now an indisputably successful coach here to shepherd them. And I can assure you, significant effort will be poured into achieving the betterment of this football enterprise at every turn. That’s about as much as any 0-9 team could dare dream be afforded in attempting to reverse its fortunes. So regardless of how this shakes down in 2018, I love what Keokuk has embarked on from this point forward and I see enormous potential here for an consistently improving gridiron experience for the next classes of Chief to come. Hard to imagine a bigger win than that for all involved.