The easy thing to do following a winless season is to block it out. Forget it. Pretend it never happened.
West Liberty senior Josh Walshire isn’t interested in the easy way out.
Neither are his West Liberty teammates.
“No one wants to go 0-9 but we are using it as motivation, a constant reminder saying that we aren’t going to let that happen again,” Walshire said. “We remember last season and we won’t let it happen again.”
No one would blame the Comets if they elected to erase the memory of last year.
Instead, the Comets have chosen to learn from the struggles of the winless season that snapped a streak of four consecutive playoff appearances.
Signs reminding players of the pain of nine straight losses showed up in the locker room.
“I think it motivates us a lot, we don’t want to do that again, obviously,” senior linebacker Chris McMichael said. “I think everyone has a great attitude and I expect it to go much better.”
The 0-9 mark a season ago was out of place for a West Liberty program that posted winning seasons and won playoff games in both 2011 and 2012.
West Liberty went 4-6 in 2013, falling in the opening round of the Class 2A playoffs.
Walshire admitted last season was a struggle, but believes the Comets have the talent to get back on track this fall.
“It was tough, I’m not going to lie, it was tough,” Walshire said. “This year we have a completely different outlook from the start of last year and we are all feeling real confident.”
The talent Walshire mentioned includes a group of 10 returning starters.
For many coaches attitude would be a concern coming off a 0-9 season, but first-year head coach Jason Iske has never doubted the mindset of this year’s group.
Led by what he described as a great group of seniors, Iske, a long-time assistant and West Liberty graduate, has been impressed by his team’s mentality.
“I never worried about their attitude, I didn’t even worry about it last year just because I knew the character of the guys,” Iske said. “They have heart, they care, they won’t ever give up and as a coach you can’t ask for more than that.”
West Liberty must replace its top passer, rusher and receiver from last season, but Iske is still excited about the weapons the Comets possess on offense.
Walshire and sophomore Joe Baker are expected to take over at quarterback this season as the Comets implement Iske’s new offensive scheme.
“We have two guys that we feel really confident in and they are two different players,” Iske said. “Josh has great leadership and good command of the team and those are things that I personally love to have in a quarterback and Joe gives us a different look as a runner.”
West Liberty didn’t have a player with more than 280 yards rushing last season, but Iske likes the stable of backs the Comets have this year.
Baker will also get carries at running back along with senior Evan Dalton, McMichael, sophomores Joe Kelly and Tanner Iske as well as fullbacks Bryce Esmoil and Gaige Tvrs.
“I’m really encouraged with the guys that we have back on offense this year,” Iske said. “I think we have a lot of options running the ball this year, we are young up front and that is a little bit of a question mark but as far as our backs go we have skilled runners.”
The biggest improvements for West Liberty could come on the defensive side of the ball.
Seven starters return in the front of the Comets’ 3-5 alignment, including five linebackers with starting experience.
Four of West Liberty’s top five tacklers are returning linebackers, led by senior Ivan Escobedo with a team-high 59 stops.
Senior Jakob Barten (58.5 tackles, 12 tackles for loss) returns alongside Tvrs (48 tackles) and McMichael (32.5 tackles).
Add in the sturdy Esmoil and senior Parker Feldman on the defensive line and the front eight should be disruptive for the Comets.
“I’m excited about our defense,” McMichael said. “All of our linebackers are returning and I think we are going to be really good. It’s a lot of experience coming back and that should help a lot.”
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.
• Last season: 0-9
• Head coach: Jason Iske (1st season)
• Assistant coaches: Gus Garcia, Marc Hauschildt, Shawn Kivi, Jim Kiwala, JJ Schwennen, Kasey Wiele.
• Returning starters: Joe Baker, Jr., RB/DB; Jakob Barten, Sr., OL/LB; Noah Barten, Sr., OL/LB; Evan Dalton, Sr., RB/DB; Ivan Escobedo, Sr., OL/LB; Bryce Esmoil, Soph., FB/DL; Noah Feldman, Jr., TE/LB; Parker Feldman, Sr., TE/DL; Chris McMichael, Sr., RB/LB; Gaige Tvrs, Sr., RB/LB.
• Other returning letterwinners: Robert Lopez, Sr., RB/DB; Josh Walshire, Sr., QB/LB.
• Newcomers to watch: Ross Brown, Sr., TE/LB; Dylan Clifford, Soph., OL/DL; Jacob Dickey, Sr., TE/LB; Andres Garcia, Jr., TE/DB; Ryan Garvin, Jr., RB/DB; Jackson Gingerich, Soph., OL/DL; Tanner Iske, Soph., RB/DB; Joe Kelly, Soph., RB/LB; Andy Lopez, Soph., OL/DL; Simon Stecker, Sr., TE/DB.
• • Playoff history: Eight appearances (1987, 1989, 1992, 1998, 2010-2013).
• District: Class 2A, District 5
Aug. 28: Tipton
Sept. 4: at West Branch
Sept. 11: Central Lee
Sept. 18: at Monticello
Sept. 25: at Mediapolis
Oct. 2: Louisa-Muscatine
Oct. 9: at West Burlington/Notre Dame
Oct. 16: Mid-Prairie
Oct. 23: at Williamsburg