116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Something old, something new and nothing’s borrowed for Cedar Rapids Washington Coach Maurice Blue.
The old is a non-district schedule against familiar Metro foes. The new comes with a move to Class 4A with the addition of 5A for the state’s 36 largest schools. The Warriors aren’t fazed by the change.
“It’s a little different than what we’re used to,” said Blue, noting Washington opens with three 5A opponents in the first four games before shifting to 4A play. “Sometimes different is good.
“Our kids are excited about it. It’s nice because everybody we’re playing, more or less, are in the same boat we are with squad sizes.”
Washington enters the season ranked fourth by The Gazette. The Warriors return a dozen starters from a 3-5 team hampered by injuries last year. Washington will face a fresh test in 4A District 4, but open with traditional rival Cedar Rapids Jefferson on Friday night at Kingston Stadium.
The classification doesn’t affect the players or their preparation. The district includes traditional powers Cedar Rapids Xavier, Pella and a solid Clear Creek Amana program.
“You’re going to see good teams and good players in each class,” said third-team all-state safety Watts McBride, who has a scholarship offer from Nebraska and recruiting interest from Iowa, Iowa State and Wisconsin. “We don’t get to choose what class we’re in. Whatever our schedule says, we’re going to play who we have that Friday. We’re excited and we’re ready take on the challenge. No matter what class it is we’re going to be ready to play.”
Washington has plenty of experience back from players thrust into the lineup a year ago, including three-year starters Noah Allen, Tate Sykora-Matthess, Riley Martin and Reid Ortiz. Seven of the current juniors started as sophomores. The potential is there, but the Warriors will have to prove it in competition.
“I like the experience coming back,” Blue said. “We’ll see what that turns into. Experience doesn’t always turn into wins or anything, but you’ve got to believe you’re going to win.”
Defense might lead the way. Washington returns the four top tacklers from 2020. McBride had 70 1/2 tackles, Romen Young contributed 45 1/2, one more than linebacker Chase Mahoney and Martin added 42 stops. Miles Thompson, Jaden Harris and Riley Martin fill out the secondary. The Warriors also have four defensive linemen back.
“Defensively, we return a lot of starters, too,” McBride said. “We’re physical and tough. I think if we don’t give up the big play it’s going to be tough to move the ball on us.”
Offensively, Washington amassed less than 2,000 total yards last season. The Warriors are stronger and healthier with Allen, Sykora-Matthess and Ramon Rockwell will anchor the line. They will be in charge of protecting Ortiz, who is replacing Henry Clymer as a full-time starter.
Clymer passed for 618 yards, rushed for 161 and scored six touchdowns before suffering a season-ending injury with three games left. Ortiz took over then and Washington needs more production from him this year.
“Reid Ortiz has done a nice job, stepping in,” Blue said. “They are a little different but both have similar characteristics in terms of, they’re a good guy, guys respect them, guys rally around them.
“Reid has done a nice job. He’s been waiting two years for this and he’s taking advantage.”
Blue has been encouraged by the skill-position players, led by running back Jabari Dobbs and receiver Michael Blanks.
“In the backfield, we have our two main ball carriers from last year are back with Jabari and Miles,” Blue said. “Michael Blank didn’t start but played a lot as a sophomore. He’s back at receiver. Jaden played receiver as a sophomore. Those two have done a nice job.”
Washington won its first three games last season, including a 55-0 victory over the J-Hawks. The lineup was decimated by injuries, leading to a rough five-game skid to close the year. They have learned from that stretch.
“We had a lot of self-inflicted wounds,” Blue said. “I don’t think we played as physical as we needed to on either side of the ball. I hope that is something that will be different this year. I think we’re a little more physical.
“It’s hard to say. It looks like that in practice but when it comes to games it’s a little different. They have done a pretty good job with embracing the work part of it.”
Coach: Maurice Blue (fifth season, 15-21)
Last year: 3-5
Top returners: S Watts McBride, OL/DL Noah Allen, OL/DL Tate Sykora-Matthess, RB/LB Jabari Dobbs, LB Chase Mahoney, CB Miles Thompson, LB Romen Young, OL Ramon Rockwell, S Riley Martin, LB Aiden Williams, WR Michael Blanks, QB Reid Ortiz, DL J.D. DeGrafft-Moffat
Schedule: Aug. 27 – at C.R. Jefferson; Sept. 2 – Marion; Sept. 10 – C.R. Kennedy; Sept. 17 – at Linn-Mar; Sept. 24 – at C.R. Xavier; Sept. 30 – Clear Creek Amana; Oct. 8 – Newton; Oct. 15 – at Oskaloosa; Oct. 22 - Pella