Young Warrior football team will not play varsity schedule this season

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Members of the Central football team include (front, left to right) Preston Kulper, Braden Taylor, Kyle Reinhart, Braxton Bormann, Isaac Loan, Carson Ruegnitz, Max Fettkether; (middle) Jacob Cooks, Jack Scherf, Sam Fettkether, Maddux Eglseder, Ryan Schroeder, Garrett Burns; (back) coach Ben Heitland, Kale Doeppke, Sam Frailey, Nate Shirbroun, Logan Sharpe and assistant coaches Tyler Bazyn and J.W Downs.

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register

 

New head coach Ben Heitland looks to bring a new philosophy and establish a winning culture for a Central football program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2016. In order to work it’s way there, Central has decided to forgo the varsity football season and will focus solely on a five-game JV schedule. 

 

According to Central Activities Director Aaron Reinhart, the decision was made because Central has struggled in recent years to field a full varsity team under several coaching regimes. 

 

“Coach Heitland is new to Central and coach Bazyn is now full-time with the high school. The coaches may be new but the problem is not…the reason we are not playing varsity this year is because we do not have enough varsity players to field a team. The decision was made now because we had what we understood to be a commitment from enough kids in the spring and throughout the summer,” Reinhart explained. 

 

“This was not an easy decision to make, and many people were involved. I had communications with coach Bazyn and Mr. Reinhart. I know Mr. Reinhart had communications with many others. As far as my role, I was able to lay out facts and measurable marks from practice, as well as some of my thoughts based on the time that I had with the team,” Heitland added. “We have talked to the players about putting them in positions to be successful. We have also talked about avoiding unreasonable risk. The change from junior high to high school is big enough without having to worry about putting athletes in a spot which they may not be physically or mentally ready for. All reactions, to my knowledge, have been very positive and supportive.”  

 

Additionally, the decision conforms to Central’s newly adopted “Building Bridges” model, though Reinhart expressly stated it did not impact the overall cancellation of the varsity schedule. 

 

The model is meant to “communicate a common vision among coaches, students, parents and the community…and was referenced as a reminder of steps needed to prepare our students,” Reinhart said. 

 

“In teaching and learning, it is important to consider what is developmentally appropriate. By playing our JV players against JV teams, we are able to give them an appropriate challenge that isn’t too hard or too easy, also known as the zone of proximal development. This allows us to teach, kids to learn and everyone to prepare for the next challenge,” he continued.

 

As for the future of the varsity program, that will be determined prior to next season, after a thorough evaluation of “the number of student-athletes committed and their commitment to preparation.”

 

That is the state of the program Heitland is walking into, but given his path to becoming Central’s new head coach, he’s used to turning tough situations into positive ones. 

 

Heitland’s football journey started in Postville, where he played football throughout high school before heading to Cornell College, where a series of concussions brought his football career to an early end. But it was also in college that Heitland, who wasn’t ready to give up on football, found another calling that kept him close to the game he loved: coaching. He became a volunteer at Postville for two years starting in 2007, before transitioning to an assistant coach for two years with MFL MarMac. 

 

While in those positions, Heitland was able to pick up some valuable lessons, such as always being willing to learn, knowing how to adapt, how to interact with players in a way that builds lasting relationships and studying the game. 

 

There was then a lull in Heitland’s football journey, but during that time, he found another calling, almost by accident. In 2013, he joined the Postville Fire Department out of a willingness to give back, and during those first few months, the fire chief mentioned the ambulance needed people and asked if Heitland would be interested. Heitland took the class, got certified and “stumbled into” a career as a paramedic that he said “turned out to be a good idea.” 

 

But there was still that football itch. It finally caught up to him three years ago, when he started coaching youth sports at Waukon and through the Youth Sports Foundation, but those were mostly fifth and sixth graders. So he started looking for coaching positions. During the search, the job at Central opened with the departure of Joe Koehn. 

 

Heitland eventually got an interview, and while he was nervous because of his lack of head coaching experience, he was confident due to his passion for the game. He knows and understands the game of football, having spent those high school years in the trenches of the offensive line. 

 

Heitland won Central over with a commitment to building the program through creating a multi-level K-12 program, focusing on the fundamentals and presenting an overall vision that is built on solving problems. During the interview process, Heitland was encouraged by the commitment of the players he spoke with, listening to their ideas and taking stock of their leadership and positive attitudes. It all seemed like a good fit, and now Heitland is in charge of turning things around. 

 

 One of the immediate challenges Heitland has to overcome is the youth of the team, which currently has 14 underclassmen, three juniors and two seniors, one of which wasn’t even a student at Central last year. This issue was somewhat lessened by the decision to play just a JV schedule, but the team is still incredibly young. Then add learning a new system to the mix.

 

One of the ways Heitland intends to solve both issues is coaching the players to focus mainly on what they can control, like ball security, effort, attitude and fitness. The rest will work itself out, though Heitland understands it will only happen if he puts the players in a position to be successful. That begins with the process and a promise which aligns with the “Building Bridges” model. 

 

“I made a promise to the kids when I first started that I would work as hard in my preparation, if not harder than they did, and that’s one thing I truly believe. I can’t prepare a team if I’m not prepared myself,” Heitland said. 

 

The revised schedule also makes this challenge less of a burden. 

 

“By competing at an appropriate level, it is also easier to evaluate and critique fundamentals. We will be able to pick out fundamental flaws versus those where we are just being beat physically. Therefore, through that evaluation process, we will be able to work on fixing the actual problems versus what appears to be problems,” Heitland said. 

 

Using this as a basis, Heitland hopes to get the kids vested in the process and to buy into the new program, but the early returns have been spotty. During the offseason, only one workout was conducted with the full roster, and while most of those absences can be chalked up to pre-planned vacations and some lingering issues, there is still cause for concern with the start of the season right around the corner. 

 

Heitland stated, though, that the kids who have shown up seem fully invested, full of positivity and have given great effort, which is important because, without them, this team won’t win. 

 

“Building a program is a process. There are many things that go into it. Letting the players know that you have their best interest in mind is one of the cornerstones of successful programs,” Heitland said. 

 

Along with this, Heitland acknowledged the dedication of the freshman group, including Garrett Burns and Braden Taylor, who have attended almost every workout. He also had high praise for senior Nate Shirbroun for his leadership, adding that Shirbroun is “acting like a third coach out there.” 

 

Shirbroun has been talking to the younger players, discussing plays and keeping the team focused. 

 

One thing that won’t change with a JV schedule is Heitland’s in-game strategy. Offensively, Heitland is looking to run a balanced attack run out of the pistol formation and rely on motions to generate a passing attack that has been limited in recent seasons. Of course, Heitland will attempt to do so without last year’s starter, senior Elliot Kelly, and backup, sophomore Vaughn Zittergruen, as both players are injured. 

 

This season, the QB in charge of revamping the passing game, which completed just 30.8 percent of its passes last season and threw just four touchdowns, falls to senior transfer Sam Frailey. Heitland complimented his ability to throw and how coachable he is, but still, it will depend on accuracy, making the right read on Frailey’s part, receivers running the correct routes and the offensive line picking up the blitz—something it struggled to do last year. 

 

This is one area where assistant coach Tyler Bazyn has been dutifully working.

 

On the topic of blitzing, Heitland plans to run a blitz heavy defense that will go after opposing quarterbacks, disrupt the line of scrimmage and produce turnovers. This pass rush is expected to be led by Maddux Eglseder and Ryan Schroeder, who should “wreak havoc” to create opportunities on the back end and produce more than the three sacks registered for all of last season and surpass the 34.5 tackles for loss. 

 

When it comes to expectations and goals, they have changed a little with the JV schedule, like win totals and stat accumulation, but some things remain the same. Heitland understands building this program remains a process and there will be growing pains, so patience is key. As long as the effort and commitment is there, there’s no reason this team can’t reach that four-win goal, and potentially even more. 

 

“Our goals and expectations are still to compete and improve daily. They may be adjusted or broken down a little more. However, we are still going to work every day to improve and work toward the goals we set. This will allow us to focus much more on development and fundamentals, as we try and build a successful program,” Heitland added.

 

A lot will be learned about this decision and Heitland’s ability to promote and build a program for the future. The first test will be in week one of the JV schedule, when the Warriors welcome Calamus-Wheatland to the Dittmer Sports Complex on Monday, Sept. 12. 

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