Early exit in last year's playoffs drives Cedar Rapids Xavier
Saints worked tirelessly in the offseason after being upset by Decorah
CEDAR RAPIDS — Having a football season end on its home field was doubly painful for Cedar Rapids Xavier last fall.
A 30-21 playoff loss to red-hot Decorah not only ended Xavier’s unbeaten 2015 season, it left a sting for a prideful junior class that hoped to send a decorated group of seniors to the UNI-Dome for the fourth year in a row.
“It pissed a lot of the juniors off that we couldn’t give our seniors a good year,” Xavier senior defensive lineman Zach Barish said. “We couldn’t finish with them into the UNI-Dome or even farther. We made them finish on their field instead of leaving the field and finishing in the UNI-Dome, so that game really decided to motivate us this year.”
There is no shortage of returning talent capable of getting the Saints back to the state semifinals for the fourth time in five years. Senior quarterback Bryce Schulte (1,516 passing yards, 20 touchdowns in 2015) will lead a potentially explosive Xavier attack that averaged more than 32 points per game last season.
“It all starts with our offensive line,” Schulte said. “If we can get it going, then I think (tailback) Maliki (Wilson) can have big games and rush for another 1,000 yards just like he did last season.”
With one more touchdown, Schulte will break the school record (54) he shares with older brother and current Northern Iowa reserve quarterback Reggie Schulte. Wilson, also a senior, was a second-team selection on the 3A all-state team after rushing for 1,273 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
“It’s fantastic because he can either blow by you or he can run you over,” Bryce Schulte said. “That’s hard to find in a running back. He’s a threat like no other running back.”
Wilson’s ability to run over opponents has been greatly enhanced by an off-season dedicated to the weight room. Following the Decorah loss, Wilson bypassed the basketball season and added 35 to 40 pounds to his 6-foot frame. Now an even 200 pounds, Wilson was able to add bulk without sacrificing his 4.5-second 40-yard-dash time.
“It will help me more than last year to truck anyone that is in the way instead of always having to juke someone out,” Wilson said. “If I see open green grass, I’m going to run to it. I’m not going to be dumb and run straight into somebody and try to make a touchdown.”
Senior receivers Nolan Butkowski and Spencer Dempewolf, plus sophomore Quinn Schulte, will be relied upon in the passing game after the Saints lost four of their top-five pass catchers last season to graduation.
All facets of the offense will benefit from an experienced group of offensive linemen, which returns three starters.
“That’s probably one of the hardest places to coach is O-line,” Xavier Coach Duane Schulte said. “And the hardest place to get some cohesiveness is the offensive line, so having Max Johnson, Ryan Jasper and Sam Meyers back is a good place to start.”
Jasper also will handle punting duties again this season after averaging 35 yards on 34 punts last season.
Barish (22.5 tackles, sack) and Lucas Miller (20 tackles, sack) will anchor the defensive line for the Saints, while defensive back Josh Gerke (32 tackles, fumble recovery) leads a secondary that is seeking replacements for three graduated seniors.
The schedule is full of potential land mines. The Saints host six-time 1A state champion Iowa City Regina in the opener, then face Metro rival Linn-Mar before a daunting district slate that includes 2015 playoff participants Benton Community, Independence, South Tama, Waverly-Shell Rock and the aforementioned Decorah Vikings.
Xavier visits Decorah Sept. 23.
“You can feel that whenever that name gets brought up there is some tension,” Wilson said. “The very next day we all went in the weight room. We didn’t take any breaks. We were not very happy. We’ll see how we go out this year. Hopefully on top.”
CEDAR RAPIDS XAVIER AT A GLANCE
• Coach: Duane Schulte (19th year, 129-64)
• Last year: 9-1 (lost to Decorah, 30-21, in second round of Class 3A playoffs)
• Top returning letterwinners: QB Bryce Schulte, sr.; RB Maliki Wilson, sr.; OL Max Johnson, sr.; RB Erik Rodriguez, sr.; OL Sam Meyers, sr.; OL Ryan Jasper, sr.; DB Josh Gerke, sr.; DL Zach Barish, sr.; DL Lucas Miller, sr.; Brett Biermann, sr.; Brett Burns, sr.; Nolan Butkowski, sr.; Ty Corrigon, sr.; Danny Curphey, sr.; Spencer Dempewolf, sr.; Nolan Dostal, sr.; Alex Francois, sr.; Jake Guckenberger, sr.; Luke Hewitt, sr.; Jack High, sr.; Brian Lang, sr.; Devin Lansing, sr.; Tom Pudil, sr.; John Rocca, sr.; Shane Scott, sr.; Ian Walther, sr.; Cameron Cookson, sr.; Jared Dean, sr.
• Key losses: WR Nick Stark; WR Blake Whitten; K Dallas Klein; LB Bryce Charipar; RB/LB Tom Hasley; TE/DE Ryan Stulken; TE/DL Daniel Richardson; RB Sean Murphy.
• Key to making the playoffs: Navigating through a district that includes playoff participants Decorah, Independence, South Tama and Waverly-Shell Rock.
• Games to watch: At Decorah, Sept. 23. Last year, the Vikings ended Xavier’s unbeaten season in the second round of the Class 3A playoffs.
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