116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
INDEPENDENCE — All the ingredients are there.
As the Independence football team prepares for Friday night's home opener at Lyle Leinbaugh Field against Maquoketa, the Class 3A fifth-ranked Mustangs understandably are optimistic coming off a 6-2 season that ended with a loss to traditional 3A power Solon in the round of 16.
Coach Justin Putz has the luxury of returning a second-team all-state running back in Marcus Beatty, starting quarterback Mitch Johnson and standout receiver Keegan Schmitt.
“It is nice to start the season with guys who not only have experience, but performed at a high level last season,” said Putz, starting his eighth season with the Mustangs. “We were in the opposite position last season, so having these guys to rely on has been great. It has helped us hit the ground running this fall.”
Not only does Putz have three returning skill players with experience, he has three guys who have gone above and beyond since the end of the 2020 season.
“Those three players — Marcus, Mitch and Keegan — have had great offseasons,” Putz said. “All of them are multi-sport players who have had success in other sports. That kind of experience is so valuable and as a coach very comforting.”
Defenses will have a tough chore going against Independence. Beatty, a 5-foot-10, 200-pound senior, ran for 1,515 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2020. He also caught eight passes for 193 yards and three scores. Johnson, a 6-foot, 180-pound junior, completed 64 of 124 passes for 1,055 yards and 17 TDs. Schmitt, a 5-9, 160-pound senior, had 22 catches for 254 yards and three scores.
“We feel like we have the pieces to be explosive on offense,” Putz said. “I feel like our skill players have some ability and we should be pretty balanced with the run and pass game.”
Last season, Independence was a young, inexperienced team entering a season with almost no offseason work due to COVID-19. As the record shows, the young players matured and improved as the season went along.
“It was great to be able to do 7-on-7, installs, group weights, and camp again,” Putz said “Our kids are further along now than maybe where we ended last season in terms of what we are able to run. It has been nice to have most of that back.”
Putz is looking for them to take the next step in 2021, especially from a physicality standpoint.
“Last year we were very young by varsity football standards,” Putz said. “We started a couple freshmen, four sophomores, and a lot of juniors. All of them performed very well and got better each week.
“I am excited to see what those guys can do this year after another year in the weight room and becoming comfortable on the field. We are expecting them to be able to play more physical this year.”
That improved physical play should also extend to the defensive side of the ball. The Mustangs return eight starters on defense.
“Traditionally, we have been pretty solid on defense year-in and year-out,” Putz said. “We expect our guys to play smart and disciplined assignment football.
“I think Korver Hupke, Tono Cornell, Kolby Sebtka and Jake Sidles can become a really good defensive line. Brady McDonald has the ability to be a really good middle linebacker. Our secondary will be led by Marcus Beatty moving to safety and Keegan Schmitt to corner.”
Putz is pleased with the new seven-class system which has a better balance of enrollments from top to bottom in 3A. He sees West Delaware as the favorite in the District 3 race.
“I think if things break well for us we should be in the mix to compete for a district title,” he said. “I think our district will have some very solid teams in it so it should be a battle every single week. We have high expectations for our guys and we think we can be one of the better teams in Class 3A.”