High school football: Losing programs turning it around this season

High school football: Losing programs turning it around this season

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High school football: Losing programs turning it around this season

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There was a faction of bandwagon fans who showed up for Clarke of Osceola home football games throughout the past decade, and most of them were there for the band itself.
The school’s award-winning marching band became the main attraction on Friday nights in Osceola during an 11-year stretch of football misery. The football team was merely an opening act for the trumpets and tubas, a show that offered a far-too-predictable ending.
The Indians won five games from 2001 through 2011. They lost 94.
“People didn’t care about us,” said Clarke senior Logan Weers, a starting receiver and defensive back. “They’d go to games and leave at halftime because the band just got done playing.”
There’s more to Clarke football games than just the halftime show this year. The Indians, at 3-2, have already matched their highest victory total in 20 years.
— Clarke isn’t the only turnaround story in the state so far this season. Thirty-seven schools have already eclipsed their 2011 victory total and seven of them are 4-0.
— Dubuque Senior, coming off a 1-8 season, slipped past Waterloo West, Linn-Mar of Marion, Dubuque Wahlert and Cedar Rapids Kennedy by a collective 16 points.
— Council Bluffs Lewis Central, 3-5 a year ago, registered victories against three programs coming off playoff appearances.
— Waukon, which finished 2-7 in 3-A last year, posted four blowout wins after dropping down to 2-A.
— Tipton won four games in 2-A in its previous three seasons combined. The Tigers are 4-0 this season in 1-A.
— Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn stumbled to 3-6 last season after three consecutive playoff appearances in 1-A. The Hawks outscored their first four opponents 171-14.
— Wayne of Corydon endured a winless 2011 season in 1-A. The Falcons routed their first four opponents this year at the eight-player level.
— Springville, which went 2-7 last season, remained unbeaten in eight-player last week with a 49-48 win against Kee of Lansing.
Clarke football became an easy victory on opposing schedules and an easy target in the school hallways throughout the past decade. Those like Weers, who stuck it out year after year, heard the same jokes and jeers from peers who asked the same questions over and over.
Why put in all the time just to lose game after game? Why not transfer to a winning program?
“A lot of them are changing their mind,” Weers said. “Now, they want to go watch and see how we do. It feels good. I’ve never felt that from the community where people are behind you and actually want to see you play.”
Weers said Clarke’s turnaround can be traced back to the arrival of first-year coach Michael Kline, a 27-year-old Bettendorf native who played at Pleasant Valley.
During Kline’s interview for the job, school officials asked about the goals he would set for the program in his first season. He said three victories would be a good benchmark for the program.
“They laughed at me and said, ‘If you win three games, they’ll throw you a parade in town,’ ” Kline said.
Clarke hadn’t even won two games in a season since 1999. But the Indians noticed immediate changes when Kline took over.
Their practices were more structured and efficient. Their coaches were more demanding. Their offense, which sometimes faced 10-man defensive fronts last season, became more diverse.
Clarke beat Clarinda Academy in the opener. The home crowd stuck around for the second half the following week and the Indians rallied in the final six minutes to beat West Central Valley of Stuart. Then they beat Saydel to start 3-0.
“It’s really changed the community and how people look at the school,” said Clarke junior Jacob Bair, a linebacker and fullback for the Indians. “There’s a lot more spirit in the school and the community.”
There’s a lot more to watch now than the band. In fact, the Indians will celebrate Homecoming on Sept. 28. That’s when Kline will get his parade.

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