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Could Cedar Rapids Prairie soar through the air this football season?
Led by Iowa State commit Gabe Burkle at tight end, Hawks having makings of strong pass game to complement always-good rushing attack
CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids Prairie will throw the football all around the field this season. The guess is at least 40 to 50 times a game.
That’s a wee bit of humor and hyperbole. The Hawks are a single-wing team offensively that puts the ‘h’ in run heavy.
It’s a lot of unbalanced line, generally three guys in the backfield, with one of them taking the shotgun snap from center and either hitting the line or perimeter, or handing it off. Prairie has piled up the rushing yards in Coach Mark Bliss’ seven seasons.
But there will be at the very least an enhanced threat of the pass in 2021. It’s all in the Hawks’ personnel.
“I do feel like this year we’ll be throwing it more often,” said senior tight end Gabe Burkle. “It’s not just myself being back, but we have three other very good receivers in Lonny Melvin, Jake Walter and Elijah Ward. Us four together, we’ve been looking pretty good so far in practice and the Xavier scrimmage we had last week.
“It should be exciting. We’re going to go out there and prove to everyone that we have the best wide receiver, pass-catching combination in the state.”
The word is Bliss has been teaching his guys a few more pass plays out of an extensive playbook he has culled over multiple decades in a successful career that has included stints in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Colorado and Florida. It makes sense.
You’ve got Burkle, the 6-foot-7 Iowa State commit, Walter, Ward and Melvin, who transferred in from Cedar Rapids Jefferson. You’ve got two good quarterbacks in seniors Dionte Fliss and Brandon Vlcko.
Fliss threw for 908 yards in eight games last season, as Prairie went 5-3, losing to Cedar Rapids Kennedy in a Class 4A playoff second rounder.
“I think the passing game has a chance to expand this year,” said senior blocking back-linebacker Moses Each. “We’ve added some new stuff in. I think it would be good if we got our passing game going a little bit more this year.”
This is not to say the running attempts will stop, because they won’t. Prairie is big up front, not even taking Burkle into account.
Look for junior Makelle Taylor to make an immediate impact in his first season on the varsity. Bliss said Taylor was timed with a 4.5 40-yard dash at a camp over the summer at Notre Dame.
“This is the biggest team we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Bliss said. “The thing about it is pregames, the teams we play, you look at them and think ‘Man, they pass the eye-candy test. Holy cow.’ Then I’d look at us and think we’ve got to be the smallest team on our schedule year in and year out, which I think we have been predominantly. But this is the first year where I can honestly tell you we have a chance to line up against people.”
Seventh-ranked Prairie’s schedule is stacked. The opener is Friday at home against No. 4 Pleasant Valley, a Class 4A playoff semifinalist last season, then it’s perennial powers No. 4 Cedar Falls and Bettendorf.
Later on comes a game against top-ranked Southeast Polk. Everyone in Hawkland knows they must be ready to go right away.
“We know (PV) is a really good team,” Each said. “ I think they’re ranked fourth or something in the state. We’re staying humble and hungry and attacking every day, getting ready to go. We’re excited … I think certainly in my three years, it’s the biggest (amount) of talent we’ve had. We’ve got a lot of potential. We’ve just got to live up to it.”
“I do feel like the potential of this team is better than the last two years,” Burkle said. “Just because the grade below mine, the junior class, has been really good their entire time, from fourth grade all the way up. They’ve rarely lost any games. And my class has always done really well in football growing up, too. Us two classes kind of meshing together …”
A look at Cedar Rapids Prairie
Coach: Mark Bliss (seventh season, 198-72 career record)
Last season: 5-3
Top returners: TE Gabe Burkle, RB-WR Jake Walter, QB Dionte Fliss, QB Brandon Vlcko, FB-DE Moses Each, OL Evan Williams, TE Brayden Duerksen, OL Cael Deflieger, OL Julian Fierro, OL-DL Carter Dawley, DB Blaine Stepanek, LB Maguire Jones, LB Charles Hodges, WR Elijah Ward, TE Dylan Beck.
Schedule: Friday - Pleasant Valley; Sept. 10 - Cedar Falls; Sept. 17 - Bettendorf; Sept. 24 - at Ottumwa; Oct. 1 - at Waterloo West; Oct. 8 - Southeast Polk; Oct. 15 - Iowa City West; Oct. 22 - at Linn-Mar.
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