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Kennedy intent on remaining a contender in Class 4A

Cougars bring back 11 starters, but lose ton of production

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CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids Kennedy Cougars are determined not to be a one-hit, one-year wonder.

They had the best football season in school history in 2015, winning their first 13 games en route to the Class 4A state championship game. They lost to West Des Moines Dowling.

It simply can’t get any better than that, though don’t tell this team. It doesn’t agree.

“We’ve got a good group,” said Kennedy Coach Brian White. “At this point last year, we knew we had a lot of talent returning. We played a lot of kids the year before, so we knew we had a lot of returning kids, a lot of talented kids. We were excited, people weren’t expecting us to be what we were, so maybe we could surprise some people. There are no surprises anymore.”

Kennedy will be the hunted instead of the hunter. It’ll be a new role.

“I still feel good about our talent right now and our kids. We are excited,” said White, in his third season since being promoted from the school’s defensive coordinator position. “We return essentially 11 starters, seven of them on defense, so our defense is looking pretty sharp right now. We are real excited about that. We’ve obviously got some question marks on offense. You can’t replace a Dalles Jacobus, a Shaun Beyer or Tyler Dralle.”

There’s the rub.

Jacobus was the emotional leader of this group, a tough sparkplug on the offensive and defensive lines. Dralle was the straight-ahead, no-fear running back who was so important.

Beyer was everything from a tight end to a wide receiver to a running back to a quarterback for Kennedy. He even played some safety and was one of the state’s best punters.

He and Jacobus have taken their considerable talents to the University of Iowa.

“What we had last year was leadership,” said senior linebacker Johnson Mator. “We’re trying to find the leaders at both positions, offense and defense, that we lost. We’re working on finding leaders and just getting better as a team.”

Mator and fellow linebacker Garrett Kubovec return after leading Kennedy in tackles last season. Other defensive starters back include Jesse Price, Sam Pape, Michael Kaiser and Chase Baker.

 

Offensively, a lot is expected from senior quarterback Nick Duehr. He had a 20-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio last year, though White said his quickness and athleticism means you’ll be seeing him other places than just behind center.

“Nick Duehr is a guy who is going to step up and be a playmaker, kind of like Shaun,” White said. “We’re going to move him around sometimes, not necessarily going to lock him into QB. That’s not a big secret. We’ve been doing it all summer in 7-on-7. We’ve got a decent junior quarterback (B.J. White) who can take some snaps and throw the ball a little bit. You’ve got to find a way to get the ball into playmakers’ hands. I’m not afraid to move kids around ... We have four or five offensive players that know at least four different offensive positions. We try to maximize our talent.”

“I feel great about that,” Duehr said. “I love going out wide, love being in the backfield sometimes, playing tight end. I love being all over the field. There’s always a little story about how my sophomore year I didn’t want to play quarterback. I wanted to play wide receiver, but we didn’t have any quarterbacks. I was the only quarterback, so I had to play quarterback. It all worked out in the end. I’m glad to be out there running around and stuff.”

Jackson Coker is Kennedy’s best lineman, a 6-foot-4, 270-pounder who has scholarship offers from Air Force and nine FCS schools. He will play both ways this season.

 

There unquestionably still is talent around. These guys won a ton last season, and they don’t anticipate that changing.

“We’ve talked about that a lot,” Mator said. “Coach White tells us to play like we’re the last team in the state. Work our way up and prove ourselves.”

“People are expecting us to do big things this year, and I don’t think we’d rather have it any other way,” Coker said. “That’s how we’ve trained. We’re going to try to play like we’re number one, we’re going to train like we’re last. We’re not going to come out here and ride our preseason ranking. We’re going to work hard and prove to ourselves and everybody that we deserve to be in the top 10.”

CEDAR RAPIDS KENNEDY AT A GLANCE

Coach: Brian White (3rd season, 16-9 record)

Last year: 13-1 (lost to West Des Moines Dowling in Class 4A state championship game)

Top returning letterwinners: QB Nick Duehr, OL-DL Jackson Coker, WR-DB Chase Baker, LB Johnson Mator, LB Garrett Kubovec, RB Payton McCarty, DL Sam Pape, DL Michael Kaiser.

• Key losses: TE Shaun Beyer, OL-DL Dalles Jacobus, OL Mason Jacobs, RB Tyler Dralle. DB, Austin Coates, DB Brandon Niemeier.

• Key to making the playoffs: Finding a way to replace the offensive productivity of Beyer and Dralle, as well as the physicality/leadership of Jacobus.

Games to watch: The Aug. 25 opener at home against a very good Muscatine team. Week 2 against a very good Cedar Rapids Washington team. District opener is Sept. 23 at home against Burlington.

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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