116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Coe coaches recognized the potential and Alex Aitchison believed he would make an instant impact last year.
It was a matter of confidence, not cockiness. It’s the mindset needed when you’re a sophomore entering your first full college football season with high expectations.
“You have to be confident in your own ability,” the 6-foot-6, 245-pound defensive lineman said. “Coming into the year, I expected to have a good season. My goal was to be first-team all-conference and I reached that goal.
“It wasn’t surprising to me but I want to go further this year. I want to be an All-American. We’ll see where it goes. I want to keep improving every single year.”
Aitchison is one of three all-American Rivers Conference performers returning for the Kohawks, who were picked third in the conference’s preseason coaches poll. The former Cascade prep is a leader for an experienced and fast, versatile defense. Coe, which was 8-2 last season and 6-2 in the A-R-C, opens the season at home Sept. 3 against rival Cornell.
Aitchison joined the Kohawks in the fall of 2020. The season was wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic and spring games that school year were limited to just one. He broke out his sophomore year, tallying 38 total tackles with 24 solo. Aitchison wreaked havoc on opposing offenses with 13.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks, resulting in conference-best minus-74 yards.
Against Loras, Aitchison had three tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumbled. He showed his versatility with two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, a blocked kick and an interception, in addition to ranking among conference leaders in tackles for loss and sacks.
“We knew he was going to be a really phenomenal football player, but your first year of a full season of college football and you’re a first-team all-conference defensive lineman — a no-doubt first-team all-conference defensive lineman, that’s pretty impressive,” Coe Coach Tyler Staker said. “We know the type of player he is. He’ll continue to grow. He’s got goals.”
Aitchison has a big frame to go along with quickness and athleticism. He has the ability to be physical and beat blockers off the ball with speed. He is a complete defender and the Kohawks will try to capitalize on his skills.
“He can do both on a high level,” Staker said. “We’re going to move him around on defense to be able to get the matchups we want. He’s a guy that can play really tough if we need to stop the run, and then he’s just so long and athletic coming off the edge where he’s a guy that can get home in a passing situation.”
Aitchison’s presence helps his teammates. Linebacker Jay Oostendorp said offenses game plan for Aitchison, which usually means double teams and leaving someone unblocked.
“He’s a monster,” Oostendorp said. “He’s going to keep getting bigger and better. I’m super happy he’s on our side.
“He looks like a big-time player. He moves pretty well, too. He’s an animal. He loves the game.”
Aitchison focused on becoming bigger and stronger this season. He witnessed the gains in strength, increasing his levels in the weight room and benching around the 300-pound mark. Aitchison said he has felt a difference on the field.
“My numbers went up quite a bit,” Aitchison said. “Physically, I feel good on the field. Coming out here in fall camp and scrimmaging against our guys, I just feel stronger.”
As a sophomore, he sat back and let underclassmen take the leadership reins. He is one of the top returners, so he has had to embrace the leadership role. Aitchison let his actions do the talking and now he has become more vocal as well.
“I’m a better leader,” Aitchison said. “My responsibility is to set an example for these younger guys that are coming in.”
“He’s stepped into that role,” Staker said. “He’s a lead-by-example guy. He’s going to work his tail off every time he’s on the field.”
The defense might be the strongest side of the ball for the Kohawks. In addition to Aitchison, they return all-conference honorable mention Oostendorp and starter Jon Bell on the edge at linebacker with Ben Ridenour manning the middle.
Three senior safeties in Jack Shaw, Trey Holub and Bridger Aucutt are coming off strong junior campaigns to lead the secondary.
“I have full confidence our defense is going to lock down any team,” Oostendorp said. “We’re here to take over. We have young guys able to step in if we have anybody go down. We’re deep in multiple positions.
“I think speed and violence is going to take us a long way.”
Offensively, Dom Shepardson returns as the top playmaker. He leads a solid group of receivers that includes Amel Saric and Logan Winn, who has made strides to become a starter this fall. They will have a trio of quarterbacks vying for the starting spot behind an inexperienced offensive line and backfield.
Nick Casey, Carter Maske and Matt Walton are capable signal callers still in competition.
“All three of those guys have battled and have been able to run and operate our offense efficiently,” Staker said. “I’ve been happy with all three quarterbacks with the way they have prepared and played coming into the season.”