116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The easy thing would have been to quit.
When you realistically have no chance to win, when the other team has three times as many players, when you absorb beating after beating after beating physically and on the scoreboard, no one would have blamed any of the kids on Cedar Rapids Jefferson’s varsity football team had they just decided enough was enough.
But it appears enough of them have persevered to the point where the J-Hawks will be able to complete a season that initially looked in August to be impossible. For that, they deserve your respect.
Especially the 13 seniors who will play at Kingston Stadium for the last time Thursday night, against Waterloo West.
“I’m just helping the classes below me to get better,” said lineman Zane Wilson. “We feel we weren’t given the best hand, our class, at the end of the day. So it just feels good to help. The freshman team is doing pretty good, I think they’re 3-3 or 2-3. They’re doing a lot better than we did our freshman year. So that’s all we care about now, the future. That, and finishing with 100-percent effort.”
It all unraveled over the summer for this proud, west-side program.
Three senior starters decided to transfer to other schools, creating a chain effect in which other returning letterwinners decided simply not to go out. With very few juniors, Coach Chris Buesing literally went door to door and scoured the school’s hallways to recruit guys to field a team.
There were 21 J-Hawks dressed for the season opener in late August against Cedar Rapids Washington. The result was predictable: a 79-0 loss.
Injuries and COVID left Jefferson with so few players that a September game against Cedar Rapids Kennedy had to be canceled. But Jefferson cranked it back up two weeks ago against Linn-Mar and played last week against Ottumwa.
Keep going, don’t cower.
“It’s not the senior season I thought I’d have,” said senior lineman Colt Chism. “It’s been interesting. We’re still going here in Week 7, and we want to keep going. We’re going to fight until our last breath. It has been a road with ups and downs. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
It's kids like Wilson and Chism you feel most sorry for, yet also incredibly uplifted by. They’ve been in the program four years, put in so much time and effort, bleed Jefferson blue, as the cliché goes.
They were among roughly 25 kids who practiced Tuesday, a number that includes all sophomores in the program. A Jeff grad, Buesing has been picking and choosing which sophs he feels can handle varsity competition enough to let his team play.
“It’s been a real challenge,” Buesing said. “But the guys that have been there and keep battling, that’s been the silver lining. At the end of the day, I just wish we could do better for them. Those kids deserve better. They put themselves in a situation where they would have had a pretty decent year. But, unfortunately, this is the way it ended up crumbling this year.”
“I mean, the guys that we’ve had here have shown up all summer all four years,” Chism said. “I’ve spent the last four years with these guys, and I couldn’t be more happy about it, more proud of it. I trust these guys tremendously. They’re my brothers. I trust these guys with my life.”
Chism and Wilson both said they never gave a thought about quitting, as difficult as the circumstances have been. That was just not an option.
“There were times where football didn’t feel as fun as it did when we were winning, but football is fun no matter what,” Wilson said. “It was never not fun. There are highs and lows, but there has never been too low of a low for me.”
Knowing a win in its final three games is highly unlikely, Wilson was asked what he considered a “victory” actually to be for his team.
“All the players on this team, being able to look at themselves in the mirror and know that we gave it everything we had,” he said. “That’s no matter if we had 14 players in one game or 25 players or whatever. To know everyone that played gave it everything they could.”
“The ones that you can trust are there for you at the end of the day,” Chism said. “The ones that you can’t will leave you in the dust. I’m so proud of these guys. I trust them like I trust my family. These guys are close to me. I hold this program near to my heart.”
Both Wilson and Chism were asked if they begrudge their schoolmates and former schoolmates who decided not to play or to play elsewhere. Wilson said there was no sense in it, though Chism disagreed.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I think winning is a privilege, and you fight for that privilege. Some of the guys that took off did not fight for that, you know? The ones that did … the ones that cared about earning the victory, stayed here.”
But in the end, this is not a negative story. Instead it’s about saluting and celebrating a group of kids who stuck it out.
“Football is always a life lesson. This has probably been a little bit more than a lot of teams have had (to deal with), but it is what it is,” Wilson said. “I always keep my head up. There is a difference between getting beat on the scoreboard and showing the guy you are playing against that they have broken you. You just try to keep your head up and keep a positive attitude.”
“At the end of the day, we didn’t have to cancel our season,” Chism said. “I worried about that at the beginning. I had some concerns. I heard a lot (about) it, and it wasn’t looking good. But here we are.”
Their coach appreciates that.
“There has never even been any sign of (quitting),” Buesing said. “That’s what saved us this year. They have been nothing but all in all the time, week in and week out, win, lose or draw. What’s impressive about those guys, those seniors, is that as frustrated as we have been as coaches, those guys never show it. They just continue to do what is best for the team. That has been really great. That helps you go to practice every day, keep going and keep fighting.”
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