116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
West Delaware’s Wyatt Voelker and Hawks football head coach Doug Winkowitsch recall the senior’s first varsity start.
Winkowitsch chuckled slightly when he remembered pulling him at halftime. Voelker admitted he only assisted on a tackle and was out of the game in the second half of a 17-15 loss to Dubuque Wahlert.
Certainly not the beginning to an all-state career that might be expected.
“After that, I went on to be the team’s leading tackler,” Voelker said. “I think I learned a lot from that game, but I think it is just about week after week getting better.”
Voelker went to work and quickly caught on to the speed of the game, developing into a defensive dynamo and helping the Hawks ascend to third in the Class 3A rankings. West Delaware travels to No. 6 Independence to decide the District 3 title Friday night at Lyle Leinbaugh Field.
Voelker will attempt to add to his total of 34.5 tackles, including 29 solo, three sacks and 13 tackles for loss. The first is second most for the Hawks and the rest are a team best.
“Things have been good,” Voelker said. “We had to come together to win a couple tough games. I think we’ve been playing really well together as a team.”
The 2019 opener against Wahlert proved to be more good than bad. Voelker refocused his attention on getting better. He clung to coaches, learning on what needed to improve. He evolved quickly that season, posting a team-high 56.5 tackles with 37 solo, 14 tackles for loss and three fumble recoveries. His 5.5 sacks ranked second.
“Ever since then he watches film,” Winkowitsch said. “He’s learned the game. He’s become incredibly instinctual.
“I think a lot of that has to do with his will to be the best. He’s worked himself into a tremendous linebacker.”
Last season led to first-team all-state honors by the Iowa Print Sports Writers Association. He had 91 tackles with 75 solo, four sacks, 20 tackles for loss, five fumble recoveries and two interceptions. Winkowitsch has a hard time picking out career highlights.
“I don’t know if there is some particular moment,” Winkowitsch said. “He’s been special each night out, honestly.”
Impact on his teammates match his impact on their games. Winkowitsch has witnessed how Voelker’s intensity and work ethic push the players around him. Something that isn’t seen by the average fan or follower.
“You know he’s going to bring it each and every time,” Winkowitsch said. “I think that demonstrates leadership from the standpoint you just want to be better because you’re surrounded by a good leader.
“We see it every day. He has a great intensity and work ethic and that elevates others around him.”
Voelker seems to be perfectly wired for his roles. He is strong and athletic as a punishing running back and a terrorizing tackler. Voelker has a nose for the ball and doesn’t shy away from contact.
“I like sticking my nose in there,” said Voelker, who is a state champion and three-time medalist, a Greco-Roman national champion and freestyle All-America wrestler. “I’m not scared to get hit. I like playing physical football and I think that is why we’re so good. We get to the fourth quarter and we’re so physical we can wear teams down with our pace.”
Winkowitsch also mentioned a visit with Voelker before the playoffs last year. He was impressed by Voelker entering his office, shutting the door and telling him that he was OK with sharing carries with a sophomore call-up, if that was what helped the team. His selfless attitude is demonstrated by a willingness to play any position the team needs.
“We are all after the same goal,” Voelker said. “We all want to win a state title. We all know what the end goal is but we have to keep winning every game. Every week we just try to get better and better. We try to make ourselves better and not worry about who we’re playing.
“We’re just trying to get better and play our best football. If we can keep doing that, I think we can win a state title.”
Off the field, he has a more loose and free attitude. He isn’t as serious, cracking jokes and having fun before turning to a beast in competition. Winkowitsch said Voelker is one of his favorite players to coach in his long career.
“He’s a tremendous kid and a lot of fun,” WInkowitsch said. “He’s real comfortable around people.
“That’s the side a lot of people don’t see. He’s usually in the moment, trying to be really good at something, whether it’s on the field, on the mat or in academics. He works extremely hard at everything.”