In football-crazed states like Iowa and Nebraska, it’s never too early to begin looking ahead to next season. After all, two-a-days begin in less than two months. With that in mind, we continue our weekly look at some of the top teams to watch in both states for the upcoming season.
Lincoln Southwest (Lincoln, Neb.)
Coach: Mark King (123-99, eight seasons)
Last season: 7-4, lost in Nebraska Class A semifinals
Key players: TE-DE Dylan Heath (6-5, 215, Sr.); OL-DL Zach Martin (6-0, 275, Sr.); LB Nakeem Evans (6-1, 205, Sr.); DL Robert Krapfl (5-11, 205, Sr.); QB-DB Tay Bender (6-2, 195, Jr.); DB Austin Tompkins (6-1, 180, Sr.)
Outlook: This won’t be the most experienced team King has fielded in his nine seasons as Southwest’s only head football coach. There are six returning starters on defense but only two on offense. “There is opportunity for a lot of competition (for positions) starting this summer,” said King. The most noteworthy jobs to be won are at quarterback and running back, spots manned last season by Nebraska-Omaha signees Ryland Cotton and Jeff Seybold. The new field general is expected to be Bender, a tremendous athlete who was the team’s punter and kicker and a starting cornerback last season. Tompkins, who intercepted six passes as a free safety in 2009, will be called upon to help replace the 1,000-rushing yards production lost when Seybold graduated.
Prediction: Southwest has seven consecutive playoff appearances and last year’s loss in the semifinals was its best result since a runner-up finish in 2005. There is enough talent on the roster to compensate for many of the Silver Hawks’ issues with inexperience. Don’t be surprised if this is one of the top five teams in the state again in 2010.
Lincoln (Council Bluffs, Iowa)
Coach: Justin Kammrad (11-9, two seasons)
Last season: 6-4, lost in first round of Iowa 4A playoffs
Key players: QB Alex Olsen (6-5, 175, Sr.); RB Austin Ebertowski (6-0, 210, Sr.); DE-TE Jamison Lalk (6-6, 240, Sr.); RB-LB Cole Millard (6-2, 185, Sr.)
Outlook: Success on the gridiron hasn’t come easy for Lincoln over the years. The Lynx qualified for the playoffs for only the third time last season and have never won a postseason contest. That could change in 2010 as Kammrad welcomes back one of Iowa’s most experienced squads. Ten offensive and eight defensive starters are back including Ebertowski, one of the state’s most prolific runners. The current 4A state 100 meters champion ran for 1,641 yards and 16 touchdowns as a junior and totaled 461 rushing yards against Sioux City West in his first-ever start as a sophomore. Fellow Division I prospect Lalk and Council Bluffs Jefferson transfer Millard were first team all-conference honorees last season. Back behind center is Olsen, who triggered an offense that averaged 33 points per game.
Prediction: Only one current member of the Missouri River Activities Conference has won a 4A football state championship (Sioux City East in 1984), so full-force resistance from history is among the factors working against Lincoln. But the Lynx have far too much talent and experience not to be considered one of the better teams in the state heading into this season.
Iowa: Niemeyer is first member of 2,000-wins club
Jefferson's (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) Larry Niemeyer already was the nation’s all-time leader in victories for a softball coach. Last week, he became the first to win 2,000 games (including fall season victories). The feat came during the J-Hawks’ 2-0 victory against Mid-Prairie at the Jack North Tournament in Des Moines. Niemeyer, 70, also has 830 wins as a girls basketball coach.
Nebraska: Millard West wins third straight U.S. Cellular Cup
With team state championships in two sports and top-eight finishes in 14 others, Millard West (Omaha, Neb.) accumulated the most points in the Nebraska Class A U.S. Cellular Cup standings for the third straight year. Skutt Catholic (Omaha, Neb.), which had three team champions and four runner-up finishes, was the Class B cup winner for the second straight year. St. Cecilia (Hastings, Neb.), a state champion in four sports, was awarded the Class C cup. The Class D honoree was Holy Family (Lindsay, Neb.), a state champion in two sports and runner-up in another.
Des Moines-based Jamie DeMoney has covered high school sports and recruiting for more than 15 years. He is editor and founder of PrepNation.com. You can reach him at PrepNation@aol.com.