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CEDAR RAPIDS — Coe recorded one of its best seasons in school history, winning 11 games, a conference title and reaching the second round of the playoffs in 2016.
Trevor Heitland was a large part of the success, finishing as runner-up for the Gagliardi Trophy given to the best NCAA Division III football player after leading the country in all-purpose yards per game and total rushing yards.
He did a little of everything except the team’s laundry during his Coe career. Equipment Manager Doug Peters had that under control.
The Kohawks will have to fill the void caused by Heitland’s graduation.
“Trevor’s production is hard to replace,” second-year Coe head coach Tyler Staker said. “Right now, we have three guys competing at the running back position.”
The Kohawks will attempt to rekindle the fire that helped them blaze their way to an unbeaten regular season and the Iowa Conference championship. For Coe to have a chance for similar results, junior Clevon Catchings, sophomores Tyler Dralle and Tino Green or a combination of the three will have to pick up the slack in the backfield.
“At this point, I feel confident that we can put any one of those guys out there and they will get the job done,” Staker said. “There isn’t a front-runner at this point.”
Catchings is the top returning rusher from last season. The 5-foot-11, 192-pounder, from Chicago, rushed for 191 yards on 42 carries in 10 games. He also scored two touchdowns.
“I’m really excited about this year,” Catchings said. “It’s going to be hard to fill Trevor’s big shoes.”
“We’re watching film and keep grinding every day, trying to get that 1-0 mentality. Do whatever I can to help the team out. Really looking forward to run the ball down everyone’s throat.”
The Kohawks could turn to Catchings to be the big-play catalyst like Heitland, who stepped in as a running backs coach for Coe.
“Clevon has the ability to hit the home run, and that is something that Trevor did for us last year,” Staker said. “It made a big difference in some of our close ballgames. Clevon has great top-end speed, so if he gets a crease he has the ability to score from anywhere on the field.”
Last season was a learning experience for Catchings. He discovered that good players keep working, building on strengths and improving weaknesses. He has focused on becoming the reliable back the team needs.
“I feel I need to be patient and read the keys,” Catchings said. “If they need a speed back, I have the speed. If they need someone for the tough yards, I’m also able to do that, looking to hit the holes hard and get to the end zone when I can.
“Get first downs or whatever coach needs us to do.”
In his first season, Dralle played in six games, rushing for 114 yards on 20 carries. Staker said Dralle is patient and does an excellent job following his blockers. He can run the ball between the tackles, providing a punch to the power run game.
“I think I’m more of a one-cut back,” said Dralle, who comes in at 5-10 and 189 pounds. “If I see a hole I’m going to hit it right away. It doesn’t matter if it’s between the tackles, the guards, up the middle (or) outside. I can get there and make people miss.”
Like Heitland, Dralle is a product of Cedar Rapids Kennedy. He was an all-state battering ram for the Cougars, setting their single-season rushing record with 2,254 yards in 2015. Dralle has to contend with a bit of a shadow, following in the former Cougar's footsteps.
“There’s a little bit of a ghost I see ahead of me,” Dralle said. “That’s what I’m trying to do. He’s a running backs coach and he talks to me a lot, telling me exactly where I need to be and what I need to do, because he was doing exactly what we’re doing last year.
“We were following last year and we’re following him again. It’s great to have them here.”
Green is another former Metro all-stater, playing at Cedar Rapids Jefferson. Green was a versatile weapon for the J-Hawks and a stellar defensive player as well. At 6-1 and 201, Green meshes a physical running style with the ability play a part in the pass game.
“Tino is a big guy,” Staker said. “He catches it well out of the backfield. He’s a strong runner. He runs angry. He still is learning the offense and developing. I’m excited for what Tino will be able to do as he gets a little more confident and more practice under his belt.”
Green added, “I’m not a finesse player all the time. I like running through people and not around people. I feel that helps me.”
Green said it will take a lot of hard work to contribute. He said they each have the chance to be a featured back and receive equal playing time. With only one ball to go around, the position still is highly contested and could be weekly.
“There’s always competition,” Green said. “You always want to be that person to start. I feel that we all have the chance of being that starter.
“We’ll be fighting for that spot every game.”
As much as they might battle each other for carries, they will be pulling for each other when Coe opens the season at Wisconsin-River Falls on Sept. 2. Dralle said they cheer for each other to do well, which is aided by an accomplished and veteran offensive line.
“I think all three of us can do the job, especially with the (offensive) line coming back,” Dralle said. “I think it’s the best in the nation. Anyone they put back there will eat up yards. It should be fun.”
The offensive line returns four starters from last year, including all-conference performers center B.J. Weepie, Dalton Kuehl, Zak Ranshaw and Jacob Langenberg. The nucleus of the group has been together for two to three seasons.
“We’re just a bunch of mean dudes that like to play football,” Weepie said. “We’re not the biggest. We’re not the fastest. We’re not the strongest, but we’re going to hit you in the mouth every play.
“We play because we love it. We love to run the ball. We love to control games.”
Heitland had an ability to slip through the slimmest hole and cut on a dime for a big play. These runners have different skills but are talented as well. Weepie said they each have potential to move the chains for Coe’s run-oriented offense.
“They’re good running backs,” Weepie said. “They’re going to get the yards and do everything they’re supposed to do and I think we’ll be successful with any three of those running backs.”
Coe will have a strong defensive front as well, including linebacker Terrence Hall, who is the top returning tackler from 2016.
First-team all-IIAC defensive linemen Robbie Peters and Drew Heitland, the former running back’s younger brother, lead a stout line, along with Daniel Vega. Peters and Heitland were among league leaders in tackles for loss and sacks.
“Those two guys coming off the edge are going to wreak some havoc in the Iowa Conference for opposing offensive linemen,” Staker said. “We’re really excited about those two guys coming back but Daniel Vega is another guy who is coming back and is a real strong presence in the middle.
“With those three, we feel really good about our defensive line.”
The Kohawks also will have to replace starting quarterback Gavin Glenn. Senior Zach Andre is expected to move under center at the start of the season. Andre attempted just 12 passes in seven games last year, completing seven for 50 yards. The goal has been to get him as many situational reps as possible to make up for his lack of game experience.
“He’s done a really good job,” Staker said. “He has a good understanding of what we do offensively. He has a strong arm and can make most of the throws we need him to make on the field.”
Despite the loss of their All-American running back, a tough and reliable signal caller and defensive MVP Dylan Stepleton, Coe tied for second in a preseason poll voted on by IIAC coaches. They have the potential to contend again.
“I’m excited,” Staker said. “It’s a new year and a new team. Anytime you have a new team there is a chemistry that has to take place. Guys have to come together and bond as a team, where your seniors have to do a good job of leading.
“I think that plays a huge part in your success throughout the course of the season, but so far what I’ve seen during fall camp is guys that are hungry, wanting to compete, wanting to go earn it every time they step on the field.”
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