At long last football is back in the state of Iowa as the official week one of the high school football season starts today. With it brings a lot of optimism and hope for all who grace the gridiron for yet another season.
Various teams are looking for more trips to state, some are just looking for improvement. Right in the middle of all of that is the Dallas Center-Grimes football team led by now 16 year head coach Scott Heitland.
The 2018-19 campaign was certainly one to quickly put in the rear-view mirror as the Mustangs managed a six year low record of just 1-8. It came on the heels of losing 27 seniors and a multitude of All-District stars. It was certainly a season to reflect back and learn from as coach Heitland explained.
“We had a large senior class graduate the year prior and it was just one of those seasons where we didn’t have a whole lot of upperclassmen leadership returning,” began Heitland. “It certainly wasn’t the year we ever would have wanted but I do feel it served the purpose of helping us grow as a team.”
It sure didn’t look pretty last season as the Mustangs suffered six year season lows in passing and rushing and one of the worst overall seasons DC-G has gone through in the past six plus seasons.
But, as all things do, that season came to an end and like a Phoenix arising from the ashes, so too have the Mustangs who are ready to tackle the 2019 season. What the Mustangs didn’t have much of last year was senior leadership with just ten total seniors on the roster. This year the roster looks like the successful rosters of old for the Mustangs who have 22 total seniors entering the new 2019-20 campaign. The experience factor that the seniors have was also bestowed upon the juniors and sophomores last season which has given them a leg up heading into the new season.
“Our goal with the majority of the underclassmen and even juniors who played last year was to keep them at the JV level and let them learn and develop at a smoother pace but with the demands we had at the varsity level last year, that just wasn’t an option,” said coach Heitland. “They had to learn and grow very abruptly which isn’t the best for underclassmen but overall it did do a lot for them because they are well ahead of where any senior, junior, or sophomore is normally heading into a week one game.”
Growth was certainly the word to utilize across the 2018-19 season and part of that growth that coach Heitland feels most excited about is that players have now started to find their true callings.
“With being thrown into the fire, we didn’t get a good read of where a lot of these guys truly belong until midway through the season,” said Hietland. “We did finally find the right places for some of the players and they have stepped up perfectly at the end of last year and through practices this year.”
For a highlight of that you don’t have to look very far beginning with junior Garrett Morris. Beginning the year as the starting quarterback last season, Morris transitioned to the defensive side of things where he finished top ten on the team in total tackles with 37.5 tackles, 33 of which were solo tackles. That then led the way for Ty Walker to find his place in the role of starting quarterback for the Mustangs. Officially deemed the starting quarterback earlier in the week, Walker narrowly set himself atop the very competitive quarterback battle with sophomore Huston Halverson and senior Owen Curtis.
One position that hasn’t had as many questions and will be a big factor against Pella is behind the quarterback as Zach Brand leads the running back charge. The now 195 pound junior churned out a very strong season in 2018 accumulating 397 yards rushing and a trio of touchdowns in just his second varsity season. He will be a big weapon for coach Heitland and the Mustangs to utilize especially with the experience gained.
“To have a guy like Zach back who has proven he can run guys over and speed by them is a huge plus for us,” said Heitland. “A full year of experience under his belt as a sophomore has benefited him and now his abilities have expanded from just run the play to analyzing the defense and helping the team on on a whole different level.”
From Walker to Brand and everyone in between, the Mustangs will need all hands on deck once again as they look to defeat three-time Class 3A champion Pella. The Dutch haven’t sported a season with less than two losses since the 2012-13 season. Pella has been a perennial powerhouse and one that has been quite difficult to defeat as the Mustangs themselves have managed just one win against the Dutch over the past ten seasons. For coach Heitland, one of the main keys to a potential win comes down to some of the more basic parts of the game.
“I know it sounds cliche but whoever minimizes the penalties will win the game,” began Heitland. “Pella is a well polished team who doesn’t make mistakes and when you give them yards you’re just playing into their hands. We’ve got to minimize the mistakes that that we can find our rhythm which may take a little bit to find. Last year we couldn’t get out of our own way and establish a rhythm but in order to defeat Pella, that’s what we’re going to have to do.”
One aspect that may favor the Mustangs is the defense vs quarterback match-up. The Dutch will be sporting a new quarterback this season while the Mustangs bring back well over 50 percent of their defense from last season. Pella also loses out on three of their top four rushers from last season, a trio that really stung DC-G last year for over 240 yards rushing. Even with an advantage on paper, all will be lost if the Mustangs don’t execute and remember the game goes four quarters.
“Too many times last year we tried to win the game in the first quarter and our execution suffered after,” said Heitland. “We need to execute and establish our style of football before we can dive into more complex items, especially against Pella”.
The Pella vs DC-G rivalry will continue once more at Pella High School tonight with kick off set for 7:30 p.m.