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Even in defeat, a clear message was sent that there are brighter days ahead for the Mustangs.
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Joe Meyer remembered the preseason text, asking what his role would be this season.
He was curious about Cedar Rapids Prairie Coach Mark Bliss’ plans to use him for his senior campaign. Meyer, a running back at lower levels, was a receiver last year. The response wasn’t what he had hoped. Bliss was uncertain and shared thoughts of more time at split end.
Then, Meyer made his case.
“I kind of recommended playing running back,” Meyer said. “I think some of the other coaches said something about it. He looked into it.”
Bliss made the change, returning Meyer to the backfield and the Hawks have reaped the benefits. After just six touches last season, Meyer has done a little of everything for Prairie. He has amassed 450 yards of total offense, leading into Thursday night’s game against Davenport Central at Brady Street Stadium.
Bliss said he received the message in May before the end of last school year. He recalled Meyer asking for a chance to try out for running back. Little did he know Bliss was already considering it.
“To be honest, we knew he was a running back,” said Bliss, noting skill positions were crowded by seniors in 2015. “We already had our minds made up pretty much that we were going to move him back to the backfield again. I just told him to rest easy and not worry about anything. We already had our intentions putting him back in the backfield.
“He’s done a pretty nice job for us. He’s a very tough, resilient young man and has done everything we have asked him to do.”
Meyer has relished his new role, touching the ball 67 times through three weeks and scoring eight TDs. He has rushed for a team-best 356 yards with 25 receiving and throwing for 69 more. Meyer has even returned six kickoffs for 194 yards.
“To be honest, last year there were a couple times I wasn’t very comfortable playing tight end, but I knew I had to do it for the team,” Meyer said. “In the backfield, everything seems a little slower when I’m running. I just know the line does its job and if I keep my eyes up that I’ll find a hole. Usually, it’s there.”
Meyer had to prove himself in the preseason and he was determined to earn his spot carrying the ball. Excitement for the season increased once he got an opportunity to work in at running back. Meyer’s effort led to increased faith from Bliss.
“I think it was the offseason, showing up every day,” Meyer said. “He put a lot of trust into me from the first day. He said I want you to take reps in the backfield, because I want to see what you can do back there. I think once it got going he gained even more confidence and that gave me confidence, too.”
Meyer has been a workhorse for the Hawks. He averages more than 20 carries per game, including a season-high 25 times each in consecutive victories over Cedar Rapids Jefferson (38-14) and Clinton (46-42).
“I love doing it,” Meyer said. “I don’t really have to say much to the team because they know what to do and they stay on the mission. We know the mission is to get to the playoffs.”
The 5-fooot-10, 180-pounder has a perfectionist attitude, which pushes him to be at his best. Bliss said it is more than an athletic trait and one that will benefit him after his playing days.
“He’s very competitive,” Bliss said. “With that being said as part of his personality, so he strives on being perfect and that is not a bad quality to have because that will carry well beyond the football field and into life.”
Meyer provides versatility. He is tied for second on the team with three receptions. Meyer has completed two of his three passes, including a 41-yard TD that bounced off the hands of Levi Usher before landing in the arms of Dalton Rayner for the decisive score against Clinton.
“It’s nice to do different things, like run routes and throw the ball,” said Meyer, who demonstrated his big-play ability last season, averaging more than 35 yards per catch. “I think that’s a big thing for me, being able to use all my skills and not just run the ball.”
Meyer’s mentality is indicative of the senior class. They possess many intangibles, including unselfishness, hard work, open minds and continue to be coachable.
“It’s been a great experience,” Bliss said. “Regardless of how our season plays out, I know for a fact that it’s fun going to work every day knowing I get to coach kids like Joe Meyer and the rest of the senior class.”
The Hawks (2-1) will look to close their non-district schedule on a high note against the Blue Devils (2-1). Prairie has to be excited for the potential production. Central has allowed 628 rushing yards the last two weeks, including 339 to winless Davenport West. Teams have amassed a total of 1,209 yards against the Blue Devils in three weeks.
“I think this is big for us because if we can get a win we can get a streak going into district,” Meyer said. “We all know district is the main thing. This is what we’ve been working toward. We have a good district but our team does well too. I think we have a good chance to compete with everybody."
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