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MARION – The resurrection of Marion’s football program has occurred faster than many expected.
Even though he was optimistic, first-year Indians head coach Tim Lovell couldn’t have expected such an immediate turnaround.
As Marion prepares for its Week 8 showdown with Class 3A eighth-ranked West Delaware Friday at Manchester, here are the Indians with a winning record, a shot at the playoffs and a chance to win a 3A District 4 title.
The Indians own a 4-1 district mark and are 5-2 overall, snapping an 18-game losing streak early this season.
“I think a lot of people were underestimating the talent that is here at Marion,” said Lovell, who was an assistant at Linn-Mar before replacing longtime Marion head coach Tony Perkins. “Sometimes you forget how to play hard, how to win, what it takes to win and what success looks like.
“We kind of had to remind some of our guys about that and let them understand that they are capable of greatness, if they just decide they want to work for it.”
Work began in the offseason. Lovell said a new coaching staff challenged the Indians, asking them to do more than they ever had in the past. More lifting, speed and conditioning drills and competition.
“There has been a total culture change here,” senior running back Owen Carstensen said. “I think a lot of people have embraced that change.”
Unselfishness has been part of the success. Players have changed positions and responsibilities, helping the team become stronger. Senior Isaak Hahn, the former starting quarterback who is now taking repetitions at wide receiver, said he focused on ending his career on a good note.
“I just wanted to have fun,” Hahn said. “I told the guys at the beginning of the season as long as we have fun, the wins and losses will take care of themselves. So far, they have.”
The Indians couldn’t escape the past, including losing varsity records since these seniors stepped into the program. They used it as fuel to the fire in the preseason and in practice.
“We were very hungry,” Hahn said. “We used that as motivation. We didn’t want to repeat any of those seasons.”
The summer response has reaped fall rewards. Marion ended the losing skid with a 45-22 home victory over Benton Community in Week 2. The Indians have won five of their six games, including three straight and a 15-14 overtime win against then-No. 6 Clear Creek Amana last week.
The first win provided a boost.
“It was a starting point and that’s how we looked at it,” Carstensen said. “We didn’t look at it as the first win of a new era. It was a starting point we needed to build off of.”
The players bought what Lovell was selling. He stressed they had to believe it before they could achieve it.
“We had them write down goals,” Lovell said. “Put down on paper what they want to get out of this season and moving forward. I think they were just excited that has paid off for them.”
Through seven games, Marion has already scored more points than either of the last two seasons. The Indians rush attack has eclipsed last year’s total and is four shy of 2014. Carstensen leads the way with 609 yards and five touchdowns, while junior Chris Mohwinkle has added 553 yards and six TDs.
The defense, guided by assistant and former Cornell College coach Ray Reasland, has adopted a physical, free and fast philosophy. Marion has allowed less than 13 points per game in its wins and has two shutouts.
“They’ve grown in their confidence,” Lovell said, “in what we’re doing and what we’re playing.”
Sophomore Trevor Paulsen is 3-0 as a starter, making his first varsity start in a 41-0 victory over Maquoketa. He has 478 yards with five TDs, completing almost 60 percent of his passes.
“He has a moxie about him,” Lovell said. “He has a little swagger that kids seem to feed off of. He’s a great athlete with the potential to make a big play on any snap.”
The Indians have a tough test in the Hawks (6-1, 4-1). West Delaware, a state semifinalist last year, has the annual success Lovell wants to emulate at Marion. He said he recalled using the Hawks as an example during an interview when he took over the program.
“We have our work cut out for us, let’s be real,” Lovell said. “West Delaware was one of the programs I referenced that we would love to be like at some point
“I’m not saying we are there, by any means,” Lovell said. “From my perspective, it’s very cool for us to have an opportunity to play against that type of program.”
Marion and West Delaware are part of a foursome tied atop the district before Thursday’s game between Davenport Assumption and CCA. The Indians have their destiny in their own hands. Something they grabbed before anyone else thought it was at their fingertips.
“We’re very excited,” Lovell said. “I don’t think a lot of people expected us to be here. Probably some people on our team, but our coaches believe in what we’re doing and our players have bought into the process of work. They have seen the fruits of their labor.”