Nick Tweeten, right, during football practice at Waukee High School Monday, Aug. 11, 2014.
One major roadblock stood in the way as Waukee clipped past program milestones in recent years on the path to state championship contender status.
Even as the Warriors steadily increased their victory total from year to year and raised their profile of the up-and-coming football program, they hadn’t proven they could regularly compete with the schools that reach Class 4-A’s ultimate destination with relative regularity.
Until last year.
Any perception that Waukee couldn’t hang with the state’s elite teams flew out the window last fall when the Warriors took Valley to the wire, handled Southeast Polk and gave Dowling Catholic its toughest postseason test. Hope morphed into belief for the Warriors during their 10-2 season that ended with a 14-9 loss to the eventual-state champion Maroons in the quarterfinals.
“I think the kids believe they can (now), and that’s a big part of the battle,” Waukee coach Scott Carlson said. “For us last year, that was the big point of emphasis: Can we contend with those tradition-rich programs and be around at the end of the game with a chance to win?
“Prior to last year, we really hadn’t proven we could do that. We didn’t get over the top on (Valley and Dowling) last year, but our kids gave us a chance to win. I think that was a big step for them.”
More important, many of the players involved in last year’s transformation are back this season.
On paper, this might be Waukee’s best team yet.
The Trevor Allen-powered offense gained additional traction last year when quarterback Ben Ferkin tossed 14 touchdown passes with only four interceptions and gave the Warriors a much-needed extra dimension. Allen picked up a scholarship offer from Wyoming after earning all-state honors for the second straight season and pushing his two-year varsity rushing totals to 2,591 yards and 41 touchdowns. Koy Schneiter and 6-foot-7 tight end Michael Jacobson, Waukee’s top two pass catchers last year, are back as well.
Iowa State recruit Anthony Nelson and all-Western Iowa pick Nick Tweeten anchor a defensive line that was nearly impossible to move at times last season. Pat Gray, the 2013 team’s leading tackler, is back, along with fellow linebackers Kyle Boulanger and Drew Linemann.
The Warriors have still have depth-chart issues to solve during preseason camp. All four starters in the secondary will be new and Carlson called the loss of four starting offensive linemen off last year’s squad, including Iowa-bound all-state pick Ross Reynolds, “a huge concern.”
“That’s probably the biggest area where we really feel like we have to find some answers,” Carlson said.
Waukee has been adept at restocking on the offensive line in recent years, and the shelves aren’t bare this season. Brandon Krantz started last year as a sophomore. Eric Nelson, a 6-5, 260-pound senior, is drawing interest from Iowa and Iowa State even though he hasn’t been a varsity regular yet.
The secondary, on the other hand, required a total overhaul after the graduation of all four starters, including 4-A interception leader Matt Hoeg.
“(The new defensive backs have) definitely surprised me this year going through camp and practices,” Gray said. “They’re going to be fine. It’s definitely not a worry anymore. We’re starting to get comfortable with them.”
They’ll be tested early, though. In the first three weeks, the Warriors will face three of the programs they measured progress against in recent years: Valley, Southeast Polk and Dowling. They’ll see if they can take the next step and go from being competitive against the Tigers and Maroons to elbowing their way alongside the 4-A giants.
“(Last year was) a one-year deal, so it’s hard to know what kind of impact it had,” Carlson said. “It’s a long road when you’re evaluating a program and it’s hard to measure (a program by) what you do in one year.
“Is that the way things are now or is that one good year and you take a step back or you don’t progress? I like the way our kids are looking at it, though. They have the confidence that they can continue to play well and get better. I’m encouraged by that this summer. I’m encouraged by how they’re preparing.”
Aug. 29 vs. W.D.M. Valley, 7
Sept. 5 at Southeast Polk, 7:30
Sept. 12 at Dowling Catholic, 7:30
Sept. 19 vs. Johnston, 7:30
Sept. 26 at Marshalltown, 7:30
Oct. 3 vs. Urbandale, 7:30
Oct. 10 at Indianola, 7:30
Oct. 17 at Fort Dodge, 7:30
Oct. 24 vs. Mason City, 7