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Cedar Rapids Jefferson begins Chris Buesing era with untested team

J-Hawks hope to continue building after Brian Webb left for Sioux City East

New Cedar Rapids Jefferson head varsity football coach Chris Buesing talks to his players during a football camp at Kingston Stadium in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, August 2, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
New Cedar Rapids Jefferson head varsity football coach Chris Buesing talks to his players during a football camp at Kingston Stadium in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, August 2, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Chris Buesing admits he’s still learning what it is like to be a head football coach.

After spending the past six seasons as the defensive coordinator at Cedar Rapids Jefferson, Buesing was promoted to the head coaching position last spring when Brian Webb resigned to become the head coach at Sioux City East.

“There’s a lot more responsibility and work that goes along with being the head coach,” he said. “I just always felt when I was an assistant that I just got to coach and that was the fun part.

“Now there is the fundraising, organization, logistics and other things involved with being a head coach. The other thing now is as head coach, I have to set the tone for the entire program, getting the culture where you want it.”

Buesing, who also serves as the boys’ track coach at Jefferson, played for the J-Hawks in the late 1990s, was the school’s all-time leading tackler when he graduated and held the record until Tavian Rashed broke it in 2016.

He knows the history of Jefferson football and realizes the program he inherited is in much better shape than the one he began working with as an assistant six years ago.

“I am in a 10-times better position than (Webb) was six years ago when he took the job,” Buesing said. “It’s not even close. There are things that people will never see, the organization of the program, things like that.

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“I’m going down now and handing kids brand-new helmets and other new equipment. We didn’t have that luxury six years ago. Things were outdated and other things had lapsed. A lot of things, Brian Webb fixed and that’s been huge as I’ve got started.”

Every coach looks to put his stamp on a program and Buesing is no different. Last year’s team was a senior-laden group that finished 4-5 in Webb’s final year.

“In the past, I was involved with a lot of things defensively when it came to on the field stuff,” he said. “Now I’m going to put some different stamps on some of the offense and the special teams part of it.”

One thing that won’t change is the tough, no-nonsense attitude the program has been known for over the past several years.

“Brian established the fact that when you play the Jefferson J-Hawks, we were going to play four quarters and we were going to play with effort,” Buesing said. “I think that has to continue and can’t change.

“I tell people when they see Jefferson football, they should equate that to being a champion. We have to earn that and we have to work hard every day to earn that.”

For Buesing to have success in his first season, he will have to rely on a group of mostly untested players. Quarterback Noah Vawter and receiver Kyler Bell, along with several others used up their eligibility in 2017.

“We didn’t have a big junior class last year, so we don’t have a ton of returning players,” Buesing said.

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One returner didn’t even make it on the field last year due to injury. Kyron Ligon was the team’s free safety as a sophomore and Buesing is looking to him for big things as a senior at that spot and as a receiver.

Other seniors expected to take on leadership roles include Henry Garsayne and Karl Green.

Several juniors got valuable varsity experience last season. Buesing is high on running back Ezeki Leggins, one of the top sprinters in the state.

“He can run and I think he can be one of the best backs in the state,” Buesing said. “If we can do a good job of getting him the ball in space, I think he can do some real good things. He’s special on the football field, kind of lightning in a bottle.”

There are two candidates to replace Vawter at quarterback. Senior Jackson Snyder did not play football last year and is in a race with sophomore Jacob Coyle for the top spot.

“Both of them are really first-year varsity players potentially,” Buesing said. “Coyle probably has a little more experience, but we really don’t have a guy yet.”

Jefferson is in a district with Cedar Rapids Prairie, Cedar Falls, Dubuque Senior, Dubuque Hempstead and Waterloo West.

“For us right now, it’s August and it is a race to get our entire program all on the same page,” Buesing said. “It takes a while to get all the oars rowing on the same cadence. That is our biggest concern right now.”

Jefferson opens at home on Aug. 24 against Cedar Rapids Kennedy.

Cedar Rapids Jefferson, at a glance

Coach: Chris Buesing (first season as a head coach)

Last year: 4-5, failed to make Class 4A playoffs

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Top returners: RB Ezeki Leggins, RB Henry Garsayne WR-FS Kyron Ligon, FB Jake Thompson

Key to making the playoffs: Junior-dominated team comes together quickly and is able to generate a consistent offensive attack with a first-year quarterback at the helm.

Games to watch: Aug. 24 vs. Cedar Rapids Kennedy; Open with longtime Metro rival in Buesing’s head coaching debut. Sept. 20 vs. Waterloo West; District opener at home against another young team. Oct. 5 vs. Prairie; Hawks are prohibitive favorite to win district title so a win here would be huge for Jefferson.

Schedule

Aug 24 — Cedar Rapids Kennedy

Aug 31 — at Muscatine

Sept. 7 — at Linn-Mar

Sept. 14 — Cedar Rapids Washington

Sept. 20 — Waterloo West

Sept. 28 — at Cedar Falls

Oct. 5 — Cedar Rapids Prairie

Oct. 12 — at Hempstead

Oct. 19 — at Dubuque Senior

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