Prep Football

Iowa City West reloads for another strong start

No. 7 Trojans take 3-1 mark into district showdown with Pleasant Valley

Iowa City West's Jalen Gaudet hauls in a pass during the team's camp at West High School in Iowa City, Iowa, on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa City West's Jalen Gaudet hauls in a pass during the team's camp at West High School in Iowa City, Iowa, on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Iowa City West experienced success the last two years, reaching consecutive state finals under Garrett Hartwig.

The only time the program had a better period was a stretch from 1995-99, winning three state titles in five seasons.

The Trojans have graduated some of their top producers each of the last three seasons, but have been able to reload a winning lineup and avoid the rebuilding process. After another state runner-up finish, seventh-ranked West is 3-1 and hosts Pleasant Valley (1-3) Friday night in the Class 4A District 4 opener at Trojan Field.

West won 25 games combined in 2015 and 2016. The Trojans continue their winning ways, despite the graduation of their top passer, receiver, tackler, kicker and top-three leading rushers and just 11 returning starters.

Hartwig is quick to credit his staff, supportive parents and the West culture, producing state-title caliber programs. His players hone their competitive nature for in the offseason.

“There is no magic formula other than just purely hard work,” Hartwig said. “It starts back in December with our offseason.

“It’s just hard work and having great kids. You just take things one day at a time. It’s pretty cliché but in the end it’s the truth.”

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The truth is West is among Eastern Iowa’s top programs through non-district play. The Trojans opened with a win over North Scott, downed a potent Southeast Polk program and manhandled Dubuque Senior, 48-14, last week. West is just one score shy of running the table, losing to fifth-ranked Bettendorf by three.

Hartwig said he looks at development as a season-long process. He can’t quite point to the Trojans’ bread-and-butter yet.

“I can’t put my finger on one thing,” Hartwig said. “As a head coach, I look at it from the perspective we are still not doing a lot of things well. Maybe it’s not that we do one thing well. We try to do everything as well as we can.

“You can ask our players. We still don’t think we’ve played what we think is a complete game yet.”

The pass game has been one of the most productive units. West ranks fifth in 4A with 919 yards, averaging 229 per game.

Jalen Gaudet has become the primary target, tallying 435 receiving yards, which is third among 4A pass catchers. His 29 yards per catch average is most for a 4A receiver with more than four receptions. He has moved into that leadership role, walking in the footprints of former teammates Traevis Buchanan and Oliver Martin.

Gaudet has five touchdown catches, scoring on plays of 90, 80 and 40 yards. He has surpassed 100 yards in three games, including 159 against the Lancers. He even has an 11-yard TD run.

“He’s a big-play receiver,” Hartwig said. “He’s really come into his own this year. He understands now the expectations and pressures of being a very good receiver. He embraces it. He looks forward to it.”

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“He’s quietly one of the most competitive guys on the team. He’s been exactly what we expected him to be.”

A new duo at quarterback has relied on the senior college recruit. Senior Joey Kuehn and sophomore Marcus Morgan have moved unto center, following all-state quarterback Evan Flitz. Both have attempted 49 passes. Kuehn has two more completions (29) and 472 yards with four TDs. Morgan has 368 yards passing and two scores.

Hartwig said both are capable varsity starters with different strengths.

“Both of those guys are skilled in different ways,” Hartwig said. “They are both humble and hardworking team guys first. They understand that.

“As we go into the week, we are direct with and up front with the guys. We see how the game goes. We are confident with both.”

They seem able to perform with the help of a makeshift rush game. To say the West backfield is rusher by committee is an understatement. The Trojans have rushed for 509 yards and seven TDs. Fifteen players have carried the ball at least once, but none of them have reached the 100-yard mark through four games.

Marchaun Hoover leads West with 76 yards, 1 more than Landon Green. Two others have at least 70 yards on the ground.

“We lost a lot of starters up front and we’re bringing back a lot of guys that have playing experience but not full-game experience,” Hartwig said. “I’m appreciative of what my (offensive) line coach has been able to do with that group. They seem to be getting better. We’ll find out Friday night to see how far they’ve come (and) how far we have to go, yet.”

The West defense has been serviceable. The Trojans allow 12 points and 286 yards per game. Hartwig praised the leadership of Green, linebackers Cole Mabry and Owen McAreavy and defensive back Noah Aanestad.

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Green leads the way with 20 total tackles. He also has eight solo tackles for loss and four solo sacks.

“There’s not a guy in the program who works harder than him,” Hartwig said of Green. “He doesn’t care how he wins. He doesn’t care what he has to do. He wants to win first. Other guys are afraid to let him down, because of his toughness and work ethic. He’s a special kid.”

West will look to repeat as district champions, but the road likely goes through Pleasant Valley again. The past isn’t important. The next game is all that matters for the new crew of Trojans.

“Like most coaches in the state, you’d trade everything you’ve done at this point for a district win,” Hartwig said. “Everyone is 0-0 and we’re taking it one game at a time.

“We have a great group of seniors, who do a great job of leading this team to where they think they want to go.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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