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CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids Xavier’s football teams hardly ever lose. That’s at the varsity level and the two sub-varsity levels.
But the kids who are seniors on a 2021 varsity club that will play in Thursday night’s Class 4A state playoff semifinals against Winterset weren’t too good as freshmen. They had such an unusually poor season.
As in 1-6 poor.
“I think after that first year, our whole class really had a chip on our shoulder,” said Xavier’s Aiden Henry. “We didn’t want to feel like that again. So we worked really hard. As these four years have gone on, we’ve worked very, very hard: in the offseason, in practice and in school.”
The whole hard-work thing has become kind of a cliché-ish narrative you hear from just about everyone. But in this case, it does fit.
In talking to kids like Henry and classmates/teammates Christian Stanek, Luke Rocca, Andrew Kram and Eddy Rodriguez after practice Tuesday night, it was mentioned how these seniors were never the largest dudes physically. There aren’t any big-time college prospects, as Xavier has had on recent teams.
They just stuck with it and got better, which has earned the total admiration of Xavier Coach Duane Schulte.
“They’ve got some of the biggest hearts we’ve ever had, that’s for sure,” Schulte said. “They’ll run through a brick wall for you. Just great kids in the classroom and on the field. If you ask them to try and do something, there is no hesitation, no doubts, no ‘Why are you having me do this?’ They’ll do whatever you ask them to do.”
“It’s trusting what the coaches say. We’ve got a good coaching staff,” said Stanek, a starter at fullback and linebacker, two very key positions in Xavier’s offensive and defensive schemes. “Just do what they say, you know? It seems to work, as history has shown … From last year, we didn’t return very many starters, so we felt like we had something to prove. A lot of people doubted us.”
To Stanek’s point, Xavier dropped a 17-10 verdict to North Scott in last year’s 3A semifinals. Every kid who threw a pass, caught a pass or had a carry in that game was a senior, as were 12 of the 15 kids who had a tackle.
That’s pretty much starting over from scratch.
“We (still) had high expectations, felt like we had something to prove,” said Rocca, a linebacker.
Which, going back to their freshman year, has been a constant with this senior group. The turnaround began when they went 7-2 as sophomores.
“We’ve come a long way,” said Kram, a defensive lineman. “Getting better every week. We have a very good team bond, everybody. A chemistry.”
Obviously, Xavier’s juniors have played a significant role in this 10-1 season as well. The Saints played a strong non-district schedule that included games with West Delaware, which lost a toughie last week in the 3A quarterfinals, and North Scott, which finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in 4A.
North Scott dented Xavier again, picking up a 20-8 victory in Week 4. But the Saints regrouped, swept through a strong district, beat Burlington in the first round of the playoffs and Webster City last week.
The losses for Winterset (9-2) were to teams also playing in state semifinals. Huskies running back Dawson Forgy has 2,159 yards rushing and 37 touchdowns total rushing and receiving.
“After the North Scott game, that was kind of a wake-up call,” Stanek said. “There were some improvements we had to make. We went out and improved on things we saw. Continued to get better.”
And here they are.
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