Reid Sinnett, right, at Johnston High School football practice Monday, Aug. 18, 2014.
JOHNSTON, Ia. — If Johnston breaks through this fall, the Dragons will know exactly where their rise began: on a night they’d rather forget.
The Dragons’ 2013 season ended on a cold, late October night before a lackluster home crowd in a 28-7 Class 4-A first-round playoff loss to Sioux City East. That disappointing evening stuck with Johnston all offseason, pushing them toward something bigger in 2014.Go
“It was motivating to me and the players,” Johnston coach Brian Woodley said. “There was a lack of respect that we didn’t get, that we felt we deserved. We’ve used that a little bit. The young kids know how it feels to lose that game. We felt we could have won it and it didn’t happen. We remind them of it when they’re lifting weights — remind them of the feeling on that night.”
Fifteen returning starters who felt the sting of that night and last season’s 5-5 record are motivated to keep it from happening again.
Senior offensive linemen Logan Beguhn — who’ll move from left tackle to center and become the offensive line’s “quarterback” this fall — called 2013’s denouement his “biggest motivator.”
“It was really upsetting. It was one of those things where we knew we could win,” he said. “Especially with all of the experience we had all summer, with our great coaching staff, we had the ability to win. We just didn’t come out, and it was really upsetting that half the stands were empty, too. It left a sour taste in my mouth and I hope it left one with everybody else.”
Johnston’s biggest strength is in the trenches. The Dragons return three starting defensive linemen and four starting offensive linemen from a year ago.
“That’s crucial for our offense,” said senior defensive end Hezekiah Applegate, an excellent pass rusher who has received recruiting interest from Iowa, Iowa State and Northern Iowa but is recovering from an arm injury. “We have an experienced front line that knows what to do, and we have an experienced defensive line, so it’ll be a lot of fun this year.”
Quarterback is an area of concern after Mike Mahanna graduated, but the offense isn’t necessarily starting over with senior Reid Sinnett. Last fall, he split time early on before Mahanna emerged as the starter. Sinnett completed 24 of 44 passes with four touchdowns against three interceptions.
“He brings good things to the table, and we’ll ask him to do more than we did a year ago,” Woodley said. “He has the tools and capability to do a great job. He’s a big kid with a strong arm.”
Beguhn praised Sinnett’s arm strength and accuracy and said his transition into the starting role has been seamless.
“It’s been absolutely phenomenal,” he said. “We’ve all played with him since seventh grade. It’s not like he’s stepping brand new into it. It’s like he’s riding a bicycle … we’re not worried about it.”
Jordan Weddington (1,025 yards, 12 TDs in 2013) moved out of state, leaving a void in the backfield. But Woodley is confident someone will emerge from the trio of senior Grant Collison, junior Grant Gossling and junior Anthony Piagentini. Senior wideout Andrew Heuss (840 yards, 10 TDs in 2013) will give Sinnett an excellent target as one of the area’s top receivers.
Defensively, the Dragons have concerns at linebacker following the graduation of first-team all-state selection Brandon Sexton and Morningside signee Zach Brandt, but they do return three starters in the secondary.
Applegate loves the defense’s returning experience and is promoting a relentless attitude.
“We’re implementing a motto called, ‘Stay hungry,’ ” he said. “No matter what the scenario is, if we’re tops in everything, don’t be satisfied with it. Or if we’re down a bunch, stay with it, don’t get discouraged. So that’s one thing we’re trying to implement for our defense.”
The same could be said for the Dragons as a whole.
“With the amount of kids we have that played last year and lost that last game, they’re all hungry,” Beguhn said. “They don’t want to be a 5-5 team anymore. They want to step it up to the next level and they know we have the talent to do it. Everyone just needs to work their butts off to get there.”
Aug. 29, vs. SE Polk, 7:30
Sept. 5, vs. Ankeny, 7:30
Sept. 12, at Urbandale, 7
Sept. 19, at Waukee, 7:30
Sept. 26, vs. D.M. North, 7:30
Oct. 3, at D.M. Roosevelt, 7:30
Oct. 10, vs. Dowling Catholic, 7:30
Oct. 17, Council Bluffs Lewis Central, 7:30
Oct. 24, Sioux City East, 7