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CEDAR RAPIDS — This season will be slightly different from Paul James’ past four decades at Cedar Rapids Washington.
For one, he technically opened the first official day of practice for teams across the state Monday as a volunteer assistant. James, who had to resign and reapply after retiring as Washington’s activities director on June 30, expected the school board to approve his rehiring Monday night.
Unlike his previous 14 seasons over two stints as the Warriors head football coach, James won’t be confined to an office or classroom before he takes the field for practices. He will have some extra time to devise game plans, dissect game video or even complete a honey-do list from his wife, Karen, during the day.
“It will be good to be able to just focus on practices and not worrying about some of the sports going on, having to deal with the paperwork,” James said. “It will be nice, I think.”
Due to the IPERS retirement plan, James stepped away from the program for the entire month of July. The assistants took over off-season workouts in areas they specialize, which was already the norm.
“The coaches handled all the workouts — offense, defense and weight room,” James said. “It’s good for those guys, although that is kind of how we operate.
“It was good for their leadership skills and having the team prepared.”
James owns an 87-55 career mark with the Warriors, serving as head coach from 1995-2006 and then from 2013-15 and making the Class 4A state finals in 2003 and 2014. The Warriors have thrived under his approach.
“He’s really a guy that breaks down the fundamentals,” Washington junior lineman Andrew Todd said. “He’s kind of old school, but he really cares about it.
“He’s always here consistent every day, so it’s really easy to progress and grow in the way that he teaches. It’s easy to learn. PJ is a great leader overall for everybody.”
James, 62, was able to step away and enjoy some much deserved rest after 40 years serving as a teacher, coach and administrator at Washington. His family vacationed in Colorado and then James took another trip with his wife.
“It was good to get away and get the batteries recharged,” James said. “Get ready to roll.”
The Warriors were 10-2 last year, advancing to the state quarterfinals. They return some experienced players, like all-staters O’Rien Vance and Rane Weiland. The players from last year’s talented sophomore squad will be expected to step in and contribute.
The top skill players from last season have graduated, leaving big shoes to fill with the absence of leading rushers Tavian Patrick and Johnny Dobbs, leading receiver Isaiah Nimmers and quarterback T.J. Vogel.
“Our sophomores are coming off a fine season,” James said. “There are some good players there, (but) by and large, they are varsity untested. We’ll need to figure out some things that way.”
James said junior Bryan Kunde will take the reins of the offense, seeing limited action last season. He was 7 for 10 for 102 yards and two touchdowns.
“He got some valuable experience,” James said. “He has a good arm, throws the ball well and he’s getting better all the time.”
Drew Dostal was second on the team a year ago with 411 yards on 19 receptions and three TDs. James also said senior Nick Bjornsen has developed and could help the Warriors’ passing game. Dostal will be a reliable target for Kunde.
“Drew has great hands,” James said. “He is an outstanding athlete.”
James said the offensive line might be the strength and most experienced part of this year’s team. The Warriors play their first game at Cedar Rapids Prairie on Aug. 26.
“We have a really good group in terms of guys who are coming back,” Todd said. “The new guys have gelled well with the camaraderie we built last year.”
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