Four-year starter John Nagel working to keep West Delaware tradition strong

Hawks lose most of their production from semifinal team, but return UNI commit

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MANCHESTER — West Delaware senior John Nagel is a big-time player with a big frame.

The Hawks will need to rely on every bit of that 6-foot-6, 230-pound brawn from the athletic tight end and defensive end.

Nagel is ready to step to the forefront and serve as a leader for West Delaware, which graduated a plethora of seniors from last year’s team that went 12-1 with a trip to the Class 3A state semifinals.

Nagel, who committed to Northern Iowa in July, is ready to take the reins and help his teammates take the same steps to continue the Hawks’ success.

“In terms for me, being a four-year starter, everyone was kind of a leader the past couple years,” Nagel said. “This year, I kind of realized that I need to step up because we don’t have a lot of guys returning. The guys who have experience are stepping up and we’re figuring that out now.”

West Delaware graduated its top passer, top two rushers, top two receivers and six of its top tacklers. Nagel is the program’s first four-year starter, according to West Delaware Coach Doug Winkowitsch. Nagel is a perfect fit to lead the way.

“He has been put in some pretty big situations already,” Winkowitsch said. “He has a ton of experience. He has played on three really good football teams already. He is all about trying to make this team the best he can help make them.”

He has carved a niche that has expanded beyond post patterns and sacks. Nagel serves as an extension of Winkowitsch and his staff between the hash marks.

“He gives us so much more on the field as far as leadership,” Winkowitsch said. “It’s like having another coach on the field.

“He has a tremendous mind for the game. He works extremely hard. He is very passionate. He gives us a lot more than just blocking and tackling. He’s just been a great young man to coach.”

The production on the field is nice, too. Nagel is the top returning receiver, finishing last season with 453 yards on 22 catches, scoring four touchdowns. He showed his athleticism, averaging 20.6 yards per catch.

Nagel also is the second-leading tackler returning for the Hawks, trailing only senior Kaleb Sparks.

“He’s just a tremendous player on both sides of the ball,” Winkowitsch said. “We’ve been very fortunate.”

Winkowitsch praised the versatile Nagel, but the biggest compliment wasn’t his work as a receiver or as a defender. Winkowitsch, who is in his 12th season as West Delaware coach and his 21st overall, said Nagel is the best blocker he has ever coached, which included linemen.

“He has tremendous body awareness for being that big,” Winkowitsch said. “He has a good base and naturally runs his feet. He is a tremendous player at the point of attack and has been something we have been able to build on, using him in so many different ways.”

Nagel was not content with his past performances, working on his strength and footwork in the off-season. Nagel focused on becoming a better athlete, improving on intricacies of the game and showing a bit of a perfectionist attitude.

“You can’t ever cut corners,” Nagel said. “Whenever you cut corners it shows when you play. You have to be as good as you can get. Make it perfect.”

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Nagel turned plenty of heads in the state semifinal loss to eventual state champion Pella last November. He hauled in six passes for 155 yards and a score against one of the state’s top defenses. He gained a lot of attention, receiving a scholarship offer and much more correspondence during the winter. As beneficial as that game was for him, Nagel was more disappointed that it ended the Hawks’ run last season.

“I never really thought about that game too much, because it was bitter for me knowing that was the game that ended our good season,” Nagel said. “It didn’t turn out the way we wanted it.”

The Hawks will use it as motivation to prove people wrong. Nagel said many have asked how good the Hawks will be after losing so many seniors from a year ago.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Nagel said. “We’re kind of under the radar. People think we’ve lost a lot but we have a lot of guys stepping up.

“We return pretty key guys up front. I’m excited about it, getting better every day.”

WEST DELAWARE AT A GLANCE

Coach: Doug Winkowitsch (12th year, 100-32)

Last year: 12-1, lost to eventual Class 3A state champion Pella in semifinal

Top returning letterwinners: WR Tyler Kelley, jr., K Aaron Thole, sr., OL Sam Johnson, sr., OL/DL Kaleb Sparks, sr., OL/DL Kaleb Zieser, sr., TE/DE John Nagel, sr., QB Tanner Wessels, sr., RB Jared Helle, jr., DB Kasey Wenger, sr., LB Grant Morris, jr., OL/DL Troy Monaghan, jr.

Key losses: Max Ridenour, Coy Roussell, Colin Brown, Owen Ward, Sam Maloney, Bennett Cole, Colin Weber, Kyle McGrane, Eric Vaske, Brett Rausch, Kyle Curley

Key to making the playoffs: The Hawks will have good team speed after a strong off-season. They will need to use a promising running attack and an established passing attack with tight end John Nagel and wideout Tyler Kelley. The defense graduated its top six tacklers and eight of the top nine. Fundamentals will be stressed as the Hawks try to develop some depth early. Early success and a win in Davenport will go a long way.

Games to watch: Look no further than Week 3 when the Hawks head to Davenport Assumption. The district title could be on the line that evening. Both teams had last season halted in the playoffs by state champion Pella. Maquoketa returns with the next best record from last year. The Hawks will close the season with the Cardinals in the district finale. West Delaware will receive a good gauge in Week 2, hosting Mount Vernon, a 2015 state finalist and preseason No. 1 in class 2A.

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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