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Cedar Rapids Prairie’s Mark Bliss is a football coach at heart, so he continues coaching football
Hawks head man has been at it over 3 decades in multiple states, feels optimistic about his 2022 team
Editor’s note: Seventh and last in a series heading into the 2022 high school football season.
CEDAR RAPIDS — Football coaches gotta coach football, and Mark Bliss is a football coach.
The Cedar Rapids Prairie head man remains the Cedar Rapids Prairie head man after contemplating retirement after last season. The 58-year-old Oklahoma native has been in it over 30 years, has put in enough time in education as a teacher for full benefits and everything.
He’s got a ranch back home he could live the easy life on, grandchildren in the Kansas City area he could dote on, but go back to that first sentence here.
“It is year to year,” Bliss said. “My biggest thing is that I have invested in this profession so much that it does wear and tear on you sometimes. But the thing is as long as you still have that energy, as long as the kids are excited to see me day to day, my staff doesn’t mind putting up with me, and I feel motivated every day, I’ll keep going.”
Few in the profession have been been more of a vagabond. Bliss has had stops in Edwardsville, Ill., Odessa, Mo., Derby, Kan., Las Animas, Colo., Blackwell, Okla., Naples, Fla., and Conway Springs, Kan., where he won four state championships.
A friendship with defensive coordinator and former Cedar Rapids Jefferson head coach Jim Dostal helped steer him to Prairie in 2015. He is 47-23 at the school, 206-80 in his career.
Prairie went 8-3 last season, losing to Ankeny in the Class 5A state playoff quarterfinals.
“My old high school coach was in it forever, and he told me ‘You’ll know when it’s time.’ It might be the end of this season, it might be six years from now. You just don’t know,” Bliss said. “It’s unique to me to the point where I have options now. Seven or eight years ago, I didn’t, and I had to keep working.
“Now it’s year to year, and if I feel great, I’ll keep doing it. If I don’t, I know it’s time to step down and let a young pup take over. Life goes on, I’ll ride off into the sunset, and, in three or four years, you won’t even know who I am.”
Prairie graduated a load of talent from last year, including tight end Gabe Burkle, who’s now at Iowa State. But Bliss has his program to the point where it (and you) expect it to be competitive and in the postseason each season.
The returnees for the Hawks include senior running back Makelle Taylor, who rushed for 1,150 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2021 out of Prairie’s unique single-wing offense. Nick Powell was Prairie’s second-leading tackler last season and is back, as is fellow starting linebacker Tate Joens.
Bliss said his team will be large up front offensively, which again seems to be a Prairie staple. Expect senior tight end Brayden Duerksen to be a larger factor.
He recently committed to the Colorado School of Mines, an NCAA Division II program.
“We lost some pretty good seniors,” Bliss said. “The biggest question mark is that we have some pretty big shoes to fill for this upcoming season. With that being said, we’re going to have to find some answers pretty quickly. Our first three games are no gimmes, they’re all playoff-caliber opponents. We’ll have to grow up in a hurry.”
Prairie begins Friday night at Pleasant Valley, arguably the best 5A team on this side of the state. Then it’s Dubuque Senior at home and Cedar Falls and Bettendorf on the road.
“As far as us being a top-10 team, I’d like to think just with the success we’ve had over the last seven years and our ability to compete with people, that we’re a top-10 team,” Bliss said.
Prairie has nearly 60 players on its varsity roster and 140 overall. With that kind of enthusiasm around for football, it’s hard for a guy to retire.
“My wife (Jill) is great at being a mother and a grandmother,” Bliss said. “I try and help her the best I can, but she knows I’m invested here and in our program. I’m a man of routine, and I’ve got a regimen on how I do things. We’ve been together since we were in the eighth grade, been married 35 years this coming November.
“When it’s time to game plan for PV, it all kicks in. She knows to give me my space, she leaves me alone, and life goes on.”
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